Question Four: What are effective ways to assess what my students are learning?

When considering assessment, there are two critical issues to keep in mind:

  • The Purpose. Understanding the purpose for conducting an assessment is probably the most important thing to understand about assessment. Without a clear purpose for conducting an assessment, the assessment should not be done. There are many different purposes for conducting assessments but for classroom teachers the primary purpose is to aid you in making a decision about whether or not your students are learning, or have learned, the curriculum. Other purposes for conducting assessments may focus on decisions about placement for special services or on comparisons of student groups across schools, states, or even countries.
  • The Quality of the Assessment. The inferences and decisions you can make with assessment information are only as good as the quality of the assessment process or assessment instrument that is being used. Although the technical qualities (e.g., validity, reliability) of tests are very important when they are high stakes (e.g., norm-referenced state-administered tests), these quality dimensions are also important for the tests you give in your own classroom to assess and improve instruction. As you think about and review the technical quality of assessments, you will want to continually ask yourself questions like: Do I have confidence that the test or assessment I used really shows whether my students have mastered the knowledge or skills I wanted them to learn? If you would like to review information about the quality of assessments, see II.9-II.12 in the online module, Assessing Student Learning, published by the Delaware Education Research and Development Center at the University of Delaware.

According to Smith, Polloway, Patton and Dowdy in the 2006 edition of their book, Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings, teachers play four important roles in the assessment of their students, including students who have disabilities:

  1. As a consumer of assessment information, you must be able to understand and interpret information from assessments;
  2. As a developer of assessment information, you must be able to create and implement assessments appropriate for your purpose(s);
  3. As a producer of assessment information, you must be able to generate accurate assessment information to help create valid inferences that aid in decision making; and
  4. As a communicator of assessment information, you must be able to share information with colleagues, parents/guardians, and students in helpful and appropriate ways.

As you may recall from your teacher preparation courses, federal special education legislation (i.e. the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]) mandates specific requirements when assessing students who have disabilities. These requirements include using multiple assessments when making placement decisions, testing the child in his/her native language, involving parents in decisions, among others. Although these guidelines were written in special education legislation, they are basic requirements that guide the assessment process for all students in schools. In addition, new initiatives such as Response to Intervention (RTI), which may be used in your state as part of a process to identify students for special education, are school-wide initiatives that support learning for all students, including those who may be identified for special education services. The following questions may help you in your understanding of assessment as it relates to students who have been identified for special education: