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January 10, 2008

How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning

By: Thomas R. Guskey

Teachers who develop useful assessments, provide corrective instruction, and give students second chances to demonstrate success can improve their instruction and help students learn. Excerpted from Educational Leadership. 2003. 60(5), 6-11

The assessments best suited to guide improvements in student learning are the quizzes, tests, writing assignments, and other assessments that teachers administer on a regular basis in their classrooms. Teachers trust the results from these assessments because of their direct relation to classroom instructional goals. Plus, results are immediate and easy to analyze at the individual student level. To use classroom assessments to make improvements, however, teachers must change both their view of assessments and their interpretation of results. Specifically, they need to see their assessments as an integral part of the instruction process and as crucial for helping students learn.

Despite the importance of assessments education today, few teachers receive much formal training in assessment design or analysis. A recent survey showed, for example, that fewer than half the states require competence in assessment of licensure as a teacher (Stiggins, 1999). Lacking specific training, teachers rely heavily on the assessments offered by the publisher of their textbooks of instructional materials. When no suitable assessments are available, teachers construct their own in a haphazard fashion, with questions and essay prompts similar to the ones that their teachers used. They treat assessments as evaluation devices to administer when instructional activities are completed and to use primarily for assigning students’ grades.

To use assessments to improve instruction and student learning, teachers need to change their approach to assessments in three important ways:

  • Make Assessments Useful for Students
  • Follow Assessments With Corrective Instruction
  • Give Second Chances to Demonstrate Success

To read the entire text, go to In the Classroom, Articles.

 

11 Responses to “How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning”

  1. tpage Says:

    I know that implementing PLC’s is a process over time. As a novice with PLC’s where do you start with the common assessments/interventions and the discussions that follow? What should the expectations with implementing PLC’s be the first year?

  2. lrice Says:

    I agree that teachers lack the formal training to create useful assessments. I have a question regarding assessments in smaller learning community schools such as early colleges. At my school, we have very limited staff (14) and I am not sure how we are able to ensure common assessments and other key components of sustainable professional learning communities are in place when there is only one teacher per content area? We are able to have vertical planning and dialog, but lack horizontal planning. Also, how can my teachers have more of an open dialog with colleagues as it relates to formative and summative assessment when they may not teach the same students or the same subject areas? Help!

  3. Tomas Guskey Says:

    These comments are similar to many that I hear from desperate educators who are doing their best to provide excellent educational opportunities for their students. Although dedicated in their efforts, they are constantly led astray by consultants and writers who have wonderful intentions but lack a clear understanding of classroom realities and what is of greatest priority in the process of improving teaching and learning.

    In this case, for example, why focus on common formative assessments? To me, that is like suggesting that the key to losing weight is to have a common scale! Will having everyone measured on the same scale help anyone lose weight? I don’t think so! And that is true no matter how accurate or reliable the scale. The quality of the scale matters, of course. But what matters more is what you do with the information you gather from the scale. The same is true with formative assessments.

    I recommend taking a look at an article that I wrote for Educational Leadership entitled “The Rest of the Story” (Guskey, T. R. (2008). The rest of the story. Educational Leadership, 63(4), 28-35.). In this article I emphasize that regardless of the quality of any formative assessment, the true value in terms of improving student learning comes from what teachers or instructors do with the results. And in determining how to use the results to help students improve, the best ideas come from other teachers, even if they do not teach the same course or subject area. So, even small schools with few faculty and limited resources can do this well and be very successful, so long as they provide structured opportunities for teacher collaboration.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Best wishes,

    Tom Guskey

  4. bmedbery Says:

    I really appreciated reading your articles. It is so true that the true value in terms of improving student learning comes from what teachers or instructors do with the results. I just finished my 2nd year of teaching and I was never taught anything about assessments until now, I am currently working on my matersters degree and taking an assessment course. I have learned high quality assessment requires establishing learning targets as the first step in conducting assessments and of course the allignment of assessment method description, the standards, learning targets, instructional strategies. I really wish that I would have been aware of these things earlier. There are many things that I will do differently nexy school year with my assessments.

  5. pamelak Says:

    I agree that teachers need more formal training in writing assessments. In our district we struggle with using our assessments the same and making them uniform. We find problems especially in grading fluency and comprehension. To me someone might sound fluent and to the next teacher they do not. We find the same thing with comprehension. I think the child understands the story and the next teachers is grading based on whether or not they used the correct vocabulary. It would be nice if we were all on the same page somehow.

  6. danielsonlm Says:

    I think that this issues is something that is starting to “come to light” in many districts. I work in a rather large district, and have noticed over the past couple of years that a lot more time is being devoted to helping teachers understand assessment better. I was recently trained as a Reading Recovery teacher and the manner in which assessments are used in this program was something I definitely had to adjust to. I think that as we start searching for ways to make our students more successful,we will have to take a closer look at how we are assessing them, why we are assessing them, and how we are using the information that we gain from those assessments.

  7. Heidi Says:

    In response to How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning, I believe reflection is another very important piece to use with assessments. Student and whole class reflection on assessments is a wonderful opportunity for the teacher to hear the thinking of his/her students. This information will lead to adjustments in teaching and will help the teacher focus on what is unclear to students. It also takes the guesswork off the teacher’s plate. How better to analyze what students are thinking then to ask them!

  8. Twicks Says:

    I agree that more assessment training is necessary. I am in my fourth year teaching and am just starting to understand the important role assessment plays in the classroom.

  9. Heidi Says:

    What kinds of summative assessments is everyone using for assessing comprehension?

  10. katiee Says:

    What are some key assessments to use with first graders for comprehension?

  11. jlpillsbury Says:

    I agree with this article in that I need more assessment training. I also agree in following assessments with corrective instruction and giving second chances for students to demonstrate success. My PLC of 6th grade Math teachers has always allowed students to correct the mistakes on their tests for half credit. This is the first year we are implementing retests (four problems long) for students to demonstrate success on any learning targets they did not pass the first time around. We are struggling with how to fit all this retesting into the trimester before students have to take a district wide common assessment on all of the required learning targets for the trimester. We do not have time for retesting students during their normal Math class period and our school is still working on implementing a true intervention program during the school day. Right now our students have to come in before or after school to complete these retests and improve their grade. Do you have any advice on fitting it all in? Or on creating a better intervention program that would allow students to retest during their normal school day?

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