Quizzes, tests, final exams, essays are words that many students dread to hear. Immediately, students think about past tests, past grades, and worry about how they will be able to do well and show their teachers what they know. As early as kindergarten, students begin to take tests and receive scores. A six year old knows that getting a 100 is excellent and not getting that score is worrisome.

Although assessments can be an unwelcome part of schooling for some students and parents, teachers must be able to measure student progress in some way. Schools and programs have student learning outcomes, objectives, standards, and skills that each child should meet throughout the school year. However, there are better methods in assessing children than the usual quiz or test.

What Should an Assessment of Student Learning Show Us?

Throughout the summer months and as preparation begins for a new school year, teachers identify the student learning outcomes (SLOs), goals, objectives, and skills that they will be teaching their students throughout the school year. Lesson plans, activities, and assessments are carefully developed so that teachers can reach their students and at the same time identify what the students have learned.

Assessments show teachers what skills students have mastered and which need re-teaching. Assessments also show students and their parents what has been important to learn throughout the unit or chapter. Assessing student learning will not only show teachers who has learned what, but it will also show students that they have gained something valuable.

Depending on the type of assessment used, teachers can learn valuable information about the students in their classes. Conducting assessment for learning, also known as formative assessment, is crucial throughout the teaching process. Teachers who use formative assessments will know how much learning is occurring during their teaching and that will help them adjust lesson plans as needed to ensure as much engagement and mastery of skills is happening from their students. Assessing throughout a lesson will help a teacher challenge those students who have possibly already mastered a skill while still making the lesson accessible to those students who have yet to show mastery.

Summative assessment or assessment of learning typically happens at the end of a chapter or unit plan. These tests will show what students have learned and whether or not they have reached the objectives and goals set forth by the teachers. This type of assessment is very common yet often does not give all students the chance to show skill mastery. These types of tests will give teachers a comparison of scores amongst the students they see in their classes.

Assessments of student learning are vital for teachers, parents, and students. They all want to know what a student has learned. The important issue to remember is that not all students learn the same way or at the same pace. Therefore, traditional ways of measuring student progress need to be set aside.

Disadvantages of Traditional Ways of Measuring Progress

Multiple choice, true/false, essay and short answer tests have been used for decades to measure student progress. They are typically easy to score and even come with some textbooks ready to be photocopied and handed out to students. The problem with these traditional ways of assessing students is that teachers do not adapt them for the current group of students they see in front of them. Last year’s sixth grade class is different from this year’s group, so why should they be given the same multiple-choice test? Students need to be able to show what they have learned. Real-life is not a true/false world, so their skills should not be assessed that way. Traditional assessments look at basic knowledge and isolated skills. There is room for improvement from these traditional tests, quizzes, and assignments.

How to Measure Progress More Effectively

Authentic assessments are a more effective way to measure student progress. Authentic assessments have students apply knowledge that they have learned and relate that knowledge to real world problems. These types of assessments use higher-order thinking skills and challenge students while still allowing them to be creative and use their imagination. By offering authentic assessments, students can choose how they want to show their proficiency on a topic. Providing multiple attempts at mastery will ensure accessibility for all students, no matter what type of learning style they have.

Authentic assessments and giving students choices take longer to develop and grade. However, these assessments allow the students to show what they know rather than what they do not know. Authentic assessments are typically subjective; therefore, teachers must provide detailed rubrics so that students know how they will be graded. One example of this type of assessment that can be used in elementary school through high school is having students draw or re-tell stories. This can be done in an oral presentation, through artwork, or with technology. Students in science classes can conduct experiments or find real-world problems to research and present upon related to what is being studied in class.

Open-ended questions are another way to give students options when assessing their knowledge. These types of questions allow for students to use their creativity and be assessed either on content or writing skills. Projects, either group or individual, are another more effective way to measure student progress than just a regular test. Teachers can even give a variety of choices within a project. It could be to create a magazine cover of a main character in a book or to make a YouTube video as if the main character was the host of the page. Giving ownership to an assessment by allowing the student to choose will increase engagement by each student and ownership of the final product.

These types of assessments are especially important during COVID-19 and forced online learning. Many students are learning from a computer with their classmates and teachers on Zoom or Google Meet. Social interactions and learning styles are being challenged because of online learning. Authentic assessments will be so helpful and a welcome distraction from the usual quiz and tests in these uncertain times. Teachers will also be able to connect with their students even if they are not in the same building and measure their progress.