Personal preferences in the assessment of learning

When I was younger, I preferred the fixed-choice test. I think this may have been because I was a lazy student when it came to learning the things I needed to know versus the things I wanted to know. It also gave me, my teacher, and my parents a number that defined my knowledge, an easy method of seeing how well or poorly I understood the material. Fixed-choice tests became a validation of my intelligence, however false or misleading those high test scores were. But, as Oakleaf states, “people believe in them” (Oakleaf, 2008, p.235.) While a student may find memorization of facts easy and do very well on tests, these tests do not assess higher-level thinking skills. I could absorb facts and basic theory easy enough, but did not necessarily want to take the time to synthesize all of that data into understanding.
Over time, that has changed, especially now as a graduate student. I feel more connected to the material and have a stronger desire to really understand it. For me, test taking does not assess understanding; it assesses memorization, which is important in some areas, but not for understanding theory and how it applies to the real world. It does not assess the effectiveness of an online tutorial or the completeness of a research paper. Today, I prefer either performance assessment or rubrics.
In one of the information literacy tutorials I looked at, while learning how to and in order to show their understanding of using the library’s online catalog, the student was tasked with searching for information. I thought this was a creative and useful way for the student to learn by doing and show their understanding. The student searched on a certain topic and had to fill in the blank in a question. In certain circumstances, like learning a new task, assessing the student’s performance of that task instead of the facts they’ve learned may truly show understanding.
As a graduate student, rubrics seem to be the gold standard of assessment. Over 12 courses I’ve only had 1 forced-choice exam – nearly everything else has been rubric based. Rubrics are related to performance assessments in that they “consist of performance criteria, indicators for each of these criteria, and proficiency levels for these indicators” (Grassian & Kaplowitz, 2009, p. 214.) When these criteria are well defined, I feel that I can adequately show my proficiency in a subject. They are especially helpful when writing a research paper or working on a group presentation. Oakleaf lists four benefits of rubrics for students, the most important of which, for me, is “students receive direct feedback about current and future learning (Oakleaf, 2008, p. 245.) I find that because the rubrics are descriptive and have well defined criteria, this feedback helps me understand where I fall short and where I need to improve.
I’ve seen my own children’s school assessments changing over the years from strictly fixed-choice assessments to rubrics and criterion based assessments. They are doing more group work, more papers (at least for my middle-schooler) where the teacher has provided a rubric on which they will be assessed. It’s been very interesting to watch the assessments, at least to a certain extent, catch up to the rhetoric (the principal extolling the importance of teaching higher-level thinking skills.) My grade school students no longer bring home letter grades that compare their achievement to the rest of the class. They bring home numbers 1-4 and are assessed on their own progress on a “standards-based rubric” (Sieff, 2011) where 1 indicates a student rarely demonstrates a concept or skill and 4 indicates s/he consistently demonstrates it. It has been a challenge for me as a parent to understand what these new report cards really mean because I am not familiar enough with elementary education to understand what all of the criteria mean. I know it’s been a challenge for a lot of the other parents who were used to having the best student in the class – without the letters we have no basis to establish a hierarchy. And I have to say, I really like that.
References
Grassian, E. S., & Kaplowitz, J. R. (2009). Information literacy instruction : theory and practice / Esther S.Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowitz. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, c2009.

Oakleaf, M. M. (2008). Dangers and opportunities: A conceptual map of information literacy assessment Approaches. Portal8(3), 233-253.


Sieff, K. (2011, September 23). Fairfax elementary schools abandoning letter grades. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-09-23/local/35274493_1_report-cards-letter-grades-elementary-schools

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