Assessment can be a very useful tool in determining the areas in which students’ need extra instruction in order to achieve the objectives of a particular lesson. When assessment is used properly, teachers are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of students and address these areas in future lessons. Students profit from assessment as it allows them to achieve a level of pride when they have done well (Morreale & Backlund, 1999). Furthermore, the greater focus that assessment gives to instruction allows students to receive instruction that is tailored to their needs (Airasian, 2001).

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The disadvantages of assessment for the student include the fact that it can often be used as a method of discriminating between “smart” and “average” students by focusing on esoteric or hard to grasp details (Braun & Kanjee, 2006). Because assessment usually comes in the form of an exam followed by a grade, students who do consistently poorly on assessments may develop a low self image.

This might lead to a general attitude low self-efficacy that the student takes into most or all subsequent situations. Another disadvantage of assessment is its ability to cause students to focus on the grade to be received from the test rather than on the wider goal of becoming a lifelong learner (Airasian, 2001).

Norm-referenced tests are used to determine students’ achievement in broader areas of knowledge. Because of this, tests include a wide range of items with only one or two of each in reference to a particular subject. Such tests touch only briefly upon several areas of a particular curriculum. The items placed on such tests are designed to discriminate between lower and higher achievers, and grades are usually given as percentiles (Airasian, 2001; Popham, 1992). Such tests are most suitable as standardized examinations, final yearly assessment of student mastery of a particular subject, or for other methods of promoting or distinguishing a select number of students (1992).

Criterion-referenced tests are aimed at determining whether students have achieved specific skills or learned certain concepts. Such tests will contain several items dealing with the

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skill or concept being tested, and difficulty levels of different questions are usually comparable. Rather than being compared with each other, students are compared to a standard that is outlined in the course objectives. Such tests are suitable at the end of particular teaching units, and grades are usually given as percentages (Airaisian, 2001; Popham, 1992).

Alternative assessment strategies are often necessary in testing certain practical skills gained after instruction in areas such as science, computer, art, and home-economics. Assessment may take the form of a project or practical and graded via the creation of a document using the particular software or of a portfolio that demonstrates the students’ ability to create or perform the tasks in which they were instructed (Airasian, 2001).

In studying the United States’ constitution, while normal assessment would include the ability to name all the amendments to the constitution, within a gifted student population students would also be required to discuss when and why these amendments were made to the constitution.

Rather than use a criterion-reference approach to assessment, students would be assessed alternatively by their performance on a debate in which the moot being discussed will be in favor of an amendment (for example, the fifth: citizens should be granted the right to refrain from incriminating themselves). After researching the need for such an amendment, students would argue for or against the moot, and be assessed individually according to their levels of preparation and the articulation of their points. By this method, gifted students will be given a chance to utilize a wide variety of skills in performing the tasks for assessment.

 Validity has to do with the determination of whether an assignment is able to measure precisely what it intends to measure (Airasian, 2001). Types of validity include content, construct, and instructional validity. Content validity is concerned with how far an assessment measures the content of a specific subject area.

Construct validity is concerned with whether or not an assessment measures students’ ability to perform the appropriate task identified by in the given area of the curriculum. If, for example, a test should measure students’ ability to apply the scientific process to experiments, the test should address all the areas of the scientific process, from observation to experimentation (Atkin, et al., 2005). Instructional validity is achieved if the content of the test corresponds with the material that was taught within the instructional setting.

The role of standardized testing is controversial (Airasian, 2001). However, if considering students comparatively, they offer a good view of how each student performs relative to other students in the entire state or nation. They also offer an accurate and highly discriminatory view into minute shades of differences between candidates. Teachers are also able to use these tests to determine the areas in which their teaching programs have strengths and weaknesses when compared to other programs offered to similar grades across the country (Popham, 2001).

The Florida FCAT comprises tests in Mathematics, Science, Writing, and Reading administered to students at the levels of third to tenth grades, and it has several uses. A very useful goal of the FCAT is to make sure that no child is “left behind” in reading. It facilitates students ability to read at a functional level by mandating that all students pass the test at the third grade level before moving on to fourth grade.

This is a good criterion, as it helps determine the areas in which students need further instruction in reading before advancing them to a grade level at which they would be frustrated. These tests are also beneficial to older students, as they are administered at other grade levels as a means of diagnosing the areas in which students need further practice in order to master subjects. Students are required to pass the tenth grade test in order to graduate from high school. However, it is commendable that if students fail this test, they are allowed up to six more chances to pass it in the subsequent years before graduation.

One problem with the FCAT, however, is that institutions that have high levels of passing are generally granted higher levels of funding by the school board. It might be considered that those students who do not pass are actually the ones that need more of the funding, and this particular use of the test might therefore be considered counter-productive.

One major technique of for improving test construction is through an assessment of the information that such tests have provided teachers and administrators in the past. Assessments are usually diagnostic and evaluative in nature, and if particular tests have been providing information concerning students’ abilities/inabilities without giving insight into how or why students have been consigned to failure, then such tests should be reorganized in order to pinpoint how and where students go wrong while answering (Airasian, 2001; Spear-Swerling, 2004).

Test administration can be improved by identifying areas in which students might experience anxiety. Efforts can be made to minimize the reasons for such behaviors. In addition, students with disabilities should be given special attention in areas where their disabilities place them at a disadvantage. They might therefore be accommodated via closer placement to visual aids in the assessment room, through the use of wheelchair accommodations, or via auditory enhancements for the hearing impaired (Airasian, 2001).

Test scoring might be improved through in collaboration with improved test construction. Tests that allow students to demonstrate their ability to solve problems on paper (as opposed to multiple choice) offer greater insight into the thought processes of students. Such tests will allow students to be rewarded for what they do know rather than punished for what they do not. Partial credit can be given for areas in which students are able to work out problems sensibly. Opportunities may even be given to make up those areas, depending on the circumstances surrounding the assessment. Furthermore, the students’ areas of weakness will also become evident, and teachers will be able to address these problems in subsequent lessons (Airasian, 2001).

References

Airasian, P. W. (2001) Classroom assessment: Concepts and application. (5th ed.). New York:   McGraw Hill.

Atkin, J. M., P. Black, & J. Coffey (eds). (2005). Classroom assessment and the national science             education standards. National Research Council. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Braun, H & A. Kanjee. (2006). “Using assessment to improve education in de

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