Assessment Types Explained for Educators

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Assessment in Education, in the early years, typically took the form of oral evaluation. Tests were subjective, often performed at the front of the classroom, and largely teacher directed; posing questions to the student around typical areas of mastery needed to pass to the next grade level. From there, assessing students took its traditional form (students at their desk and a paper/pencil test) in the late 1890s following the institution of letter grades (A, B, C, etc.) to replace the teacher’s subjective measure of a student’s ability.

The first standardized test in education was the Stone Arithmetic Test (the Early 1900s) and the SATs made its way onto the education landscape in the 1930s as a way to check a student’s readiness for college.

Current trends in education have seen an increase in testing and making data-driven decisions, but in the era of TLA (another Three Letter Acronym), the volume of assessments educators and districts can/have to use often leads to confusion. The following is a list of assessment terms that are commonly found in education and my simple definition and use of them.

Types of Assessment

Type Who Purpose Examples
Formative Assessment – formal and informal assessment to monitor and provide feedback on student understanding of targeted learning goals. Formative assessment is frequent and ongoing; it is not typically graded. Whole Class Formative assessment is used to inform teacher instruction and by students to set goals and next steps. Exit Slips, Games, Pretest,3-2-1
Summative Assessment –   culminating assessment used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and achievement. It typically occurs at the end of a unit, lesson, semester, or year. It is commonly considered “high-stakes” testing and is graded. Whole Class Demonstration of understanding by the student. Project, Portfolio, Test, Paper
Screener –  a valid, reliable, evidence-based assessment used to indicate or predict student proficiency or identify those at-risk. Screeners are brief, identify the “who”, and are given a few times a year. Whole Class or Targeted Group Identification of students at-risk and who need additional support. AIMSweb, DIBELS, FAST, EasyCBM, iReady, STAR
Diagnostica tool used to provide insights into a student’s specific strengths and weaknesses. The data collected provides the teacher with specific skills to target when designing individualized instruction. Diagnostic Assessments identify the “what” for the student. Individual Student After a student has been identified via a screener, a diagnostic assessment is used to determine specific areas of focus. Error analysis of literacy progress monitoring data, Phonics Inventory, Reading Miscue Analysis
Progress Monitoring a tool used to assess student’s academic performance and rate of growth on individualized or targeted instruction. Individual Student To ensure the response to instruction is helping students grow in a targeted area. Based on specific intervention or instruction. The diagnostic tool can be used if there are multiple forms available.
Norm-Referenced Assessment – compares student’s performance to the “average student” score. The “average student” score is constructed statistically selected group of test takers, typically of the same age or grade level, who have already taken the exam Whole Class, Whole Grade Level Designed to rank test takers on a bell curve. Used to determine how students in a particular school or district are ranking to others who take the same test. Standardized tests. California Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, and TerraNova.
Criterion-Referenced Assessment –  measures student performance against a fixed set of standards or criteria that are predetermined as to what a student should be able to do at a certain stage in education. The score is determined by the number of questions correct. Whole Class Can be both high-stakes (used to make decisions about students, teachers, schools, etc.) or low-stakes (used for student achievement, adjusting instruction, etc.) Multiple choices, true/false. Short answer or a combination. Can be teacher designed.
Benchmark Assessment – Fixed assessments (also called interim assessments) to measure a students progress against a grade-level or learning goal. Often given in-between formative and summative assessments. Whole Class or Individual Student Used to communicate to educators, students, and parents which skills are important to master and student’s progress (so far) towards those learning goals. Fountas and Pinnell, Reading A to Z Benchmark Passages
Other Assessment Terms You May Encounter
CFAs (Common Formative Assessments) Assessment that is collaboratively created and agreed upon by a group or grade-level team to measure students attainment of the learning goals.
Alternate Assessment Assessments for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Tests have less depth and breadth than the general assessment. (Small number of kids on IEPs that are unable to take the general test)
Alternative Assessment Also called authentic assessment or performance assessment. Alternative assessment is in contrast to the traditional standardized test and focuses on individuals progress, multiple ways to demonstrate understanding)
Authentic Assessment Replicates real-world challenges that experts or professionals in the field encounter. Used to not only demonstrate mastery of learning goals or standards but also critical thinking skills and problem-solving. (Students construct, respond, or produce to demonstrate understanding)
Synoptic Assessment Combines multiple concepts, units, or topics in which a single assessment requires students to make connections between the learning. A holistic approach to assessment and the interconnectedness of learning.
Quantitative Data Data collected that can be measured and written down in numbers.
Qualitative Data Data collected that is more subjective and speaks to the expertise of the teacher to provide their opinion based on trends and past experiences.

 

The ability to choose the right assessment that meets the needs of students and teachers is essential. Most often, confusion does not occur between the differences between formative and summative assessments. Through my own work with districts and educators across the nation, I have found a need to clarify the definition and purpose between a Screener, Diagnostic Tool, and Progress Monitoring. These three assessment types are essential when digging deep into student needs and help to inform instruction.

Resources to Explore:

My Collection of Edtech Tools for Assessment

List of Screeners

List of Diagnostic Tools

Progress Monitoring List

Authentic Assessment

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