Assessing Students in Social Science Disciplines

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about assessing students in social science disciplines. We will learn why assessment is important, and we will identify methods of assessing student comprehension.

What is Assessment?

Let's say you're a high school history teacher. You're up there everyday teaching your heart out. It is your deep desire that all your students understand the material you present. You want them to get something from your class. You want them to learn. So how will you know whether or not they understand the information you present or not? This is where assessment comes in.

Assessment is not a dirty word. It's actually pretty simple, so don't be scared off by the word itself. Assessment simply refers to the methods used to determine the extent to which students understand learning content. Often we think of assessment in terms of testing, and testing is certainly an important method of assessment, but assessment is also so much more. A teacher asking comprehension questions after a lecture can be considered assessment as well. Remember, assessment consists of a wide range of methods used to determine if students understand the material presented in class. Let's dig deeper and learn about some methods of assessing student learning in social science disciplines.

Tests are one of the most common forms of assessment, but they are not the only form.

Formal Assessments

Assessments are divided into two categories: formal and informal. We'll look at formal assessments first. Typically formal assessments consist of standardized tests. A standardized test is a test in which a scale of achievement has already been developed. Standardized tests are tests that are common to all (or at least a large groups of students). In a standardized test, a student's score is based on statistical averages. Whether or not a student does well or poorly on the test, depends on the scale of how other students have done.

The ACT (American College Testing) is a common standardized test measuring high school learning, as is the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Passing ACT and the SAT are typically required for high school student to be admitted to colleges and universities. Of course, each school has its own standard of what constitutes a ''passing'' score. Many standardized tests are multiple choice and require test-takers to fill in ''bubbles'' with a pencil to complete the test.

The SAT is a common standardized test.

Informal Assessments

Informal assessments consist of non-standardized tests, quizzes, homework assignments, oral exams, questioning, and many other methods. Even observation can be used to ''informally'' assess student achievement. Informal assessments are often created by the teacher and tend to be more specialized.

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