How to Create Interdisciplinary Assessments

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we'll look at a few tips and strategies that teachers can use to design and administer effective assessments for thematic or interdisciplinary learning units.

Creating Assessments

Assessments are necessary to determine the efficacy of a program and the progress of student learning. When designing assessments for an interdisciplinary learning unit that covers a variety of cross curricular content, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Instructors should design assessments under the best practices of their discipline and align the assessments to the standards.
  • A blend of both formative and summative assessments are necessary to measure progress and evaluate the program.
  • Effective assessments in an interdisciplinary unit will effectively integrate all the elements specific to the discipline.
  • The most important tip for designing effective assessments is to begin with the end in mind and consider what you need to measure, ensuring that assignments will provide the learning needed to be successful.

In this lesson, we'll explore each of the tips mentioned above to help you create interdisciplinary assessments for the classroom.

Best Practices

When designing interdisciplinary assessments it is important to follow best practices. Best practices are determined by evidence based on valid research. Evidence-based, research-driven practices are those that have withstood the rigors of scientific testing for efficacy. When you know your assessments have stood up to the scrutiny of testing, then you can be more confident in your approach as similarly effective in replicating the findings of a study.

Let's look at two types of assessments that align with best practices.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are non-graded assessments, like class notes, homework assignments, practice work, and class participation. Formative assessments can help guide the teaching to where it needs to go, to help see gaps in student learning or see which students may need a different instructional approach to master the material. These assessments are meant to give students a low stakes practice opportunity and measure learning as it is formed.

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments are graded assessments, like quizzes, essays, projects, standardized tests, midterm and final exams. Summative assessments can measure the efficacy of the program overall as well as student mastery. They can also help you identify where and how you need to adjust instruction. Because summative assessments are graded or scored, these assessments have higher stakes for students, measure the sum of their learning, and can be compared to previous assessments to measure progress.

Aligning Standards

Let's look at the impact of state standards on assessment design. When people bemoan the idea of 'teaching to the test', what they are saying is that teachers should have more flexibility in curriculum and instruction. The standardized tests have served to provide a large data set measuring student learning. The standards being tested have the benefit of providing an evidence-based list of content topics that represent the minimum of what students are expected to know when they advance through school. On balance, the use of state educational standards benefit students by developing a research basis for content, providing freedom of instructional design to the teachers.

Using the standards to guide the assessment development means that your curriculum content reflects meeting those standards. Frequently, standards are parallel across several disciplines, lending for a simplified process of assessments in interdisciplinary lessons. For example, several subjects require students to demonstrate proficiency in reading charts and graphs. A cross curricular lesson could involve assessments that use charts and graphs for math, science or geography in one unit with these subjects.

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