According to Black and William (1998), the general term assessment refers to all those activities undertaken by teachers — and by their students in assessing themselves — that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities. In another words, assessment is the process of collecting information about a student in order to guide the teaching and assure that students are learning the content. When evaluating students’ works, teachers are in charge of identifying strengths and weaknesses, the right and the wrong in some cases, and appraising the quality of work, good or bad. Since it involves making a judgment, it is inevitable include an element of subjectivity by the assessor. However, educators should strive to make assessment as objective, fair and transparent as possible.
In terms of collecting data, assessments can be qualitative and quantitative. For example, every time, teachers are collecting data by observation and student conference, it is a qualitative method because they are using their interpretation as a criterion. On the other hand, if giving a test which will be scored, it is a quantitative method because they are analyzing statistically. The combination of both types of methods usually gives the teacher a round idea about a student.
Regarding purposes, each type of assessment has different goals. Diagnostic assessments provide information about the students’ prior understanding such as what they already know and do not know about a topic so that educators can plan lessons appropriately; expose misunderstanding and misconceptions in prior knowledge; and clarify to the students the type of understanding that a teacher value for this subject. This is one of the most informative because it guides the instruction making the lesson very focused in the first attempt. Formative assessment tracks students’ learning during the progression of the school year and focus on improving the learning of those students. It supports student learning through constructive feedback by diagnosing student difficulties; measuring improvement over time; and providing information to students how to improve their learning. Summative assessment is about gathering information at the conclusion of a period of time and/or end of the school year to improve learning or to meet accountability demands. The most well-known examples are the state standardized tests, for example, in Texas, the STAAR, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. In many cases, teacher might use this assessment as a formative one in order to measure students’ progress and use it to reteach a topic. However, they need to keep in mind that there are several variables that may interfere with students’ outcome especially CDL students for being one of the most intense types of assessment, emotionally and mentally[m1] .
Focusing on summative assessments, teachers need to consider the conditions in order to make them valid, reliable, and bias free for CDL students. Considering my classroom teaching experience in a state tested graded level, in the past years, the state summative assessments were not modified for CDL students consequently not valid, reliable, or even bias free. I had Hispanic students during Reading test asking me the reason people take their family members to nursing homes since in Hispanic culture, grandparents stay with family until they die. Teachers focused on teaching vocabulary for testing thinking that ELL’s would be able to learn all the vocabulary needed to pass the test, but not really to show what students really know. This past year, 2011, the state of Texas implemented the STAAR test which gave accommodations to ELL’s taking the state test in English. The state gave them the opportunity to have English-Spanish dictionaries and extra-time limit to finish the test since English native speakers had only 4 hours. Students with disabilities were able to use manipulatives, word lists, graphic organizers, and oral administration during testing. CDL students who have arrived in the U.S. within 4 years taking the test were able to take the same one with simplified language, the STAAR L. In the Texas Education Agency website, STAAR L was created to meet participation requirements for a substantial degree of linguistic accommodation in subject areas, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. It is clear that the state is trying to make this assessment more effective giving linguistic accommodations, but hopefully, in the future, other accommodations such as cultural will be taken in consideration as well.
When discussing about formative assessment, in Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms (2005), formative assessment – the frequent assessments of student progress to identify learning needs and shape teaching – has become a prominent issue in education reform. The achievement gains associated with formative assessment have been described as “among the largest ever reported for educational interventions”. While many teachers incorporate aspects of formative assessment into their teaching, it is much less common to find formative assessment practiced systematically. This happens due to the fact that educators find difficult to give grades using so many varieties of types of assessment and many of them are subjective such as conferencing (individual/small groups), discussions, games, graphic organizers, kinesthetic assessments, learning/response logs, observations, practice presentations, projects, questions, self/peer assessment, short quizzes, visual assessment, writer’s and reader’s notebooks. On the other hand, reflecting on this list, these assessments are appropriate for all students in relation to their learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and auditory; Bloom’s Taxonomy learning domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor; and Howard Gardners’ multiple intelligences.
In conclusion, incorporating all types of assessment in class for all students is a hard task, but as teachers and knowing that assessment is a critical part of the process of teaching, educators should strive to balance all of them in class. It is not definitely a one-man job, but working together as a team, the whole school can develop an effective data system which not only helps stakeholders keep track of student scores on summative assessments, but enables teachers to use technology to choose among optional formative assessments tasks and resources according to students’ accommodations, to keep track of data on formative assessments, and share resources and insights with other teachers. Theory about classroom assessment and formative assessment may need to include some references to summative assessment, and vice versa, in order to describe more adequately the cyclical process successful students apparently construct for themselves (Sebatane, 1998).
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London: King’s College.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (n.d) Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms. Retrieved August 25, 2012, from http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/35661078.pdf
Sebatane (1998) cited in Brookhart, S. M. (2001). Successful Students’ Formative and Summative Uses of Assessment Information. Assessment in Education. Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 153-169
STAAR™ L Resources (n.d.) Retrieved August 25, 2012 from http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/ell/staarl/