Designing & Using Assessments Based on Curriculum

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Assessments based on curriculum tend to deliver consistent, effective results for a given curriculum design. In this lesson we will discuss the design of curriculum-based assessments and how to use them.

What are Curriculum-Based Assessments?

It might as well be written in Swahili. John stares at the test, realizing that there is nothing familiar about the material at all. Where is Ms. Grimes getting these questions? If only his teacher used curriculum-based assessments!

Assessments measure the development of the knowledge and skills in your students. They indicate both your students' progress and how well your curriculum is performing in producing the desired knowledge level in your students. There are many kinds of assessments. What you use depends on your subject, your preferences, your particular group of students, and the requirements of your administration.

Curriculum-based assessments (CBA) are specifically designed around and based upon the ways you're trying to teach. They measure your students' progress in learning your materials. Every test is filled with experiences from your instruction, such as

  • text
  • notes
  • video sections
  • selected readings
  • diagrams
  • representative models

Designing and Using CBA Instruments

Although there are many forms of CBA instruments, they will generally be:

  1. Based on your curriculum. CBA instruments are always taken directly from the instructional materials. Sections of reading, math from the examples, maps from the geography text, everything that appears on a CBA instrument should be familiar to your student.
  2. Learning exercises. Each CBA probe should provide learning opportunities--your students will grow while they are being assessed.
  3. Overlapping. Especially important with special needs students, your assessment items need to overlap, giving the students multiple chances (on different days) to get items right. This helps students avoid giving inaccurate CBA results because of a bad day, and also provides a reinforcement of key information.
  4. Data-oriented. CBA instruments provide specific, quantitative data that you can use to develop an objective view of the student's progress in a given program. They offer a broader information base, since they involve multiple assessments over the same materials.
  5. Feedback-oriented. The assessments should provide the information you as a teacher need to fine-tune your curricular approach for the students.

When you're designing CBA instruments, you will go over the materials the students have covered (or will cover), and establish the points from the instructional materials that you will use as a basis for each probe (a small assessment used to measure progress in a specific area).

For example, you might be setting up CBA instruments to monitor the progress of your English literature class. You're reading The Tempest, and you want to emphasize reading comprehension, underlying meanings, and literary structure. You would take key sections from the text and create your probes, which are generally given over multiple days.

Each probe contains a brief array of activities, sorted by increasing level of difficulty. For example, you might:

  1. Have each student read aloud a section of the assigned work (perhaps Gonzalo's joke about the boatswain's date with the gallows in the first act). Following along in your own copy, you can mark errors in the reading or in the comprehension, which will later be used for data.
  2. Ask for a one-sentence interpretation of the section (what was Gonzalo really saying?), or have the student select a most-accurate interpretation from a set of choices.
  3. Have your student briefly describe or identify the structure of the passage. What are the mechanical methods being used to convey the information?

As you're setting up an assessment like the one described above, you would want to keep the key questions in mind:

  1. Is it based on your curriculum?
  2. Does it advance your students' learning while it's assessing capabilities?
  3. Is there complete overlap with previous and upcoming probes?
  4. Can data be collected from the graded result?
  5. Will it give feedback direction for your curriculum?

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