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Educators have long used tests and measurements to analyze data such as scores obtained from different assessment tools. Such data was necessary for making conclusions about students’ proficiencies and abilities. Upon the review of the historical development of educational evaluations and testing, it was revealed that “psychometrics, cognition, curriculum, and the socio-political context of education” were the four major forces that played major roles in shaping the nature and design of tests and measurements (Pellegrino, 2004, p. 4). This means that the evolution of tests and measurements was linked to social, political, and behavioral changes that countries experienced.
Initial achievement tests came to the United States in the second half of the 1800s when the mission of schools shifted from serving the elite to educating the masses (US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1992). In addition, testing was introduced for avoiding the rapidly bureaucratizing system in schools. Throughout the 1900s, testing in education gained a new purpose – searching for mental measurements for determining students’ intellectual abilities. Army testing during WWI was the catalyst for the rapid expansion of assessments in the movement of school testing, and during WWII, more attention was placed on the psychological capacities of students (US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1992).
Current Tests and Assessments
Today, practices associated with assessing students’ knowledge and capabilities are of standardized nature to ensure fairness and reliability of measurements throughout the entire educational system. SAT, SAT Subject Tests ACT, AP tests, and others make it possible for educational facilities to evaluate students’ capabilities without the need of catering assessments to specific circumstances (Wiliam, 2010). Apart from standardized tests, teachers use diagnostic, summative, formative, and benchmark tests for getting a comprehensive look at students’ achievement. Such tests are divided by grade levels, objectives of specific courses, prior knowledge of the students, and so on.
The purpose of all assessments to determine whether the level of students’ understanding aligns with the established benchmark. For instance, both SAT and ACT are standardized college admission tests that evaluate the level of students’ knowledge before allowing them to enter a higher educational facility. Key skills assessed during such tests include computational abilities, reading comprehension, and clarity of expression (Kaufman, Raiford, & Coalson, 2016). Depending on the requirements that students have to meet to pass a test, finish a course, or graduate, educators may focus on different aspects of assessments; however, in general, quantitative information from tests is taken as the overall score that points to a specific achievement level.
Issues in Current Assessment Practices
The main problem that persists in the sphere of current tests and assessments is that schools rely heavily on standardized testing for evaluating their students’ capabilities while in reality, results of such tests may not show the actual picture (Morgan, 2016). As a consequence, the extreme reliance of schools on tests leads to “misleading information on what students know, lower-level instruction, cheating, less collaboration, unfair treatment of teachers, and biased teaching” (Morgan, 2016, p. 67). Additionally, because of the possibilities for teachers to gain recognition and bonuses for high-achieving classes of students, some of them may intentionally reduce test scores of students taught by rival teachers.
Relying on standardized testing can potentially narrow the information necessary for assessing students’ intelligence. This means that appropriate measures should be taken for reducing their negative influence. For instance, policymakers can introduce programs that combine standardized testing with other assessment methods to get a full picture of students’ achievement (Morgan, 2016). The example of Finland, where standardized tests are rarely used, proves that there is a solution to this problem.
Since teachers have the opportunity of evaluating students’ knowledge and capabilities in preparation for formal assessments, they should seize it for multiple reasons. For instance, informal assessments are driven by performance rather than standardized measures, which means that they can change depending on the situation and students’ overall abilities (Ruiz-Primo, 2011). To successfully perform an informal assessment, teachers are advised to engage in an instructional dialogue. Such a dialogue is often referred to as an assessment conversation, which can take place alongside other activities that occur in the classroom.
Examples of instructional dialogues may include teachers asking about concepts that students do not understand and which ones were easy for them to perceive and process. According to Ruiz-Primo (2011), “the study of instructional dialogues in the classroom follows […] four types of moves: structuring, soliciting, responding, and reacting” (p. 17). Overall, when performing informal assessments, teachers should focus on the conversational aspect of education that can potentially yield even better results than formal testing.
The long history of testing and assessments for evaluating students’ performance resulted in the advent of standardized tests, which offer educators an opportunity of measuring achievement quantitatively. However, this results in adverse effects on students who are faced with the challenge of adjusting their capabilities to the established requirements. In order for teachers to make sure that their students are prepared for formal assessments, they should engage in an instructional dialogue, which showed to be effective for understanding students’ capabilities.
Kaufman, A., Raiford, S., & Coalson, D. (2016). Intelligent testing with the WISC-V. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Morgan, H. (2016). Relying on high-stakes standardized tests to evaluate schools and teachers: A bad idea. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 89(2), 67-72.
Pellegrino, J. (2004). The evolution of educational assessment: Considering the past and imagining the future. Princeton, NJ: Policy Information Center.
Ruiz-Primo, M. A. (2011). Informal formative assessment: The role of instructional dialogues in assessing students’ learning. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 37(1), 15-24.
US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1992). Testing in American schools: Asking the right questions. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.