Types of Assessment and How They Differ

Assessment in Schools

Assessment is a vital tool in the modern teacher's toolkit and takes a variety of forms. Teachers use a range of assessment methods to pinpoint areas of strength and trouble-spots for students, making them better equipped to plan effectively to meet their students' needs.

Standard, traditional assessments – tests that we are all familiar with – can be helpful in allowing teachers to communicate with students, families, administrators, and other educational stakeholders, keeping them apprised of student progress. But this is only one of many forms of assessment in the modern classroom – others include verbal questioning, group discussion, peer assessment, extended writing, flashcards, exit tickets, and interactive quizzes, to name just a few.

A key consideration for teachers when conducting any kind of assessment is how to ensure it is valid and reliable, leading to meaningful, insightful and actionable information.

Informal and Formal Assessment

There are many types of assessment that teachers use in regular practice which can be loosely categorized as formal and informal. Formal assessments (or summative assessments) are those that are discrete and planned in advance. These might include standardized tests, end of unit tests, purchased assessments or explicitly designed portfolio tasks.

Informal assessments (or formative assessments) happen in the classroom every day, as teachers review students' work, ask questions or observe students in action.

Formative assessment is ongoing and informs a teacher's understanding of student progress; summative assessment is conducted at the end of a unit and measures students' knowledge and skills against some kind of standardized benchmark; however, in practice, end of unit tests may function formatively and provide teachers with valuable information for future curriculum planning.

Authentic, Diagnostic and Alternative Assessments

Even within the categories outlined above there are many subtypes of assessment. In today's classrooms many teachers focus on authentic assessment methods, or performance assessment – creating scenarios that test the breadth of skills that students possess, rather than simply their ability to regurgitate knowledge.

Authentic assessments include activities such as peer assessed presentations, experiments, recitals, role plays and Socratic seminars.

Using authentic and valid assessments can be especially meaningful with students from demographic groups who are often underserved educationally, such as students with disabilities or English language learners. With these students, teachers take special care to find assessments that test their knowledge base in the content area being assessed, rather than simply their skill with the English language.

And while assessments are traditionally considered stressful affairs, some modern assessment types – such as diagnostic assessment and alternative assessments – are actually designed to relieve stress and make courses more accessible for students.

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