Assessment is a process of gathering and documenting information about the
achievement, skills, abilities, and personality variables of an
Assessment is used in both an educational and psychological setting by
teachers, psychologists, and counselors to accomplish a range of
objectives. These include the following:
In the early 2000s standardized tests are increasingly used to evaluate
performance in U.S. schools. Faced with declining test scores by American
students when compared to others around the world, state governments and
the federal government have sought ways to measure the performance of
schools and bring a measurable accountability to the educational process.
Thus, states and the federal government have adopted standardized tests
for evaluating knowledge and skills on the assumption that testing is an
effective way to measure outcomes of education. One prominent program has
been the No Child Left Behind Act that requires schools to meet certain
performance standards annually, for their students as a group and also for
individual ethnic and racial subgroups. The use of this type of
standardized tests is controversial. Many educators feel that it limits
and effectiveness of the classroom teacher and produces an environment of
"teaching to the test."
The choice of an assessment tool depends on the purpose or goal of the
assessment. Assessments might be made to establish rankings among
individual students, to determine the amount of information students have
retained, to provide feedback to students on their levels of achievement,
to motivate students by recognizing and rewarding good performances, to
assess the need for remedial education, and to evaluate students for class
placement or ability grouping. The goal of the assessment should be
understood by all stakeholders in the process: students, parents,
teachers, counselors, and outside experts. An assessment tool that is
appropriate for one goal is often inappropriate for another, leading to
misuse of data.
Assessment tools fall broadly into two groups. Traditional assessments
rely on specific, structured procedures and instructions given to all
test-takers by the test administrator (or to be read by the test-takers
themselves). These tests are either norm-referenced or
criterion-referenced tests. Standardized tests allow researchers to
compare data from large numbers of students or subgroups of students.
Alternative assessments are often handled on an individual basis and offer
students the opportunity to be more closely involved with the recognition
of their progress and to discover what steps they can take to improve.
In norm-referenced assessments, one person's performance is
interpreted in relation to the performance of others. A norm-referenced
test is designed to discriminate among individuals in the area being
measured and to give each individual a rank or relative measure regarding
how he or she performs compared to others of the same age, grade, or other
subgroup. Often the mean, or average score, is the reference point, and
individuals are scored on how much above or below the average they fall.
These tests are usually timed. Norm-referenced tests are often used to
tell how a school or school district is doing in comparison to others in
the state or nation.
A criterion-referenced assessment allows interpretation of a
test-taker's score in relation to a specific standard or criterion.
Criterion-referenced tests are designed to help evaluate whether a child
has met a specific level of performance. The individual's score is
based not on how he or she does in comparison to how others perform, but
on how the individual does in relation to absolute expectations about what
he or she is supposed to know. An example of a criterion-referenced test
is a timed arithmetic test that is scored for the number of problems
answered correctly. Criterion-referenced tests measure what information an
individual has retained and they give teachers feedback on the
effectiveness of their teaching particular concepts.
Performance assessment can be used to evaluate any learning that is
skill-based or behavioral. Performance assessment requires the test-taker
to perform a complex task that has to do with producing a certain product
or performing a specific task. Performance assessments can be either
individual or group-oriented and may involve application of real-life or
workplace skills (for example, making a piece of furniture in wood shop).
Authentic assessment derives its name from the idea that it tests
students in skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the real world.
Authentic assessment focuses on student task performance and is often used
to improve learning in practical areas. An advantage of authentic
assessment is that students may be able to see how they would perform in a
practical, non-educational setting and thus may be motivated to work to
Portfolio assessment uses a collection of examples of the actual
student's work. It is designed to advance through each grade of
school with the student, providing a way for teachers and others to
evaluate progress. One of the hallmarks of portfolio assessment is that
the student is responsible for selecting examples of his or her own work
to be placed in the portfolio. The portfolio may be used by an individual
classroom teacher as a repository for work in progress or for
accomplishments. Portfolios allow the teacher to evaluate each student in
relation to his or her own abilities and learning style. The student
controls the assessment samples, helping to reinforce the idea that he or
she is responsible for learning and should have a role in choosing the
data upon which he or she is judged. Portfolios are often shared by the
student and teacher with parents during parent-teacher conferences.
The assessment interview involves a one-on-one or small group discussion
between the teacher and student, who may be joined by parents or other
teachers. Standardized tests reveal little about the test-taker's
thought process during testing. An interview allows the teacher or other
administrator to gain an understanding of how the test-taker reached his
or her answer. Individual interviews require a much greater time
commitment on the part of the teacher than the administration of a
standardized test to the entire class at one time. Thus, interviews are
most effective when used to evaluate the achievements and needs of
specific students. To be successful, interviews require both the teacher
and the student to be motivated, open to discussion, and focused on the
purpose of the assessment.
Journals have been used as part of the English curriculum since at least
the 1980s. In assessment, the journal allows the student to share his or
her thoughts on the learning process. A journal may substitute for or
supplement a portfolio in providing a student-directed assessment of
achievement and goals.
Attitude is one component of academic success that is rarely measured
objectively. An attitude inventory is designed to reveal both positive and
negative (or productive and unproductive) aspects of a student's
outlook toward school and learning. However, this type of assessment may
be of limited use if the student's negative attitude makes him or
her unwilling to actively participate in the assessment. By demonstrating
a sincere interest in addressing student concerns that affect attitude, a
school can improve the effectiveness of attitude inventory assessments.
Computer-aided assessment is increasingly employed as a supplement to
other forms of assessment. A key advantage in the use of computers is the
capability of an interactive assessment to provide immediate feedback on
responses. Students must be comfortable with computers and reading on a
computer screen for these assessments to be successful.
Psychological assessment of children is used for a variety of purposes,
including diagnosing learning disabilities and behavioral and attention
problems. Psychologists can obtain information about a child in three
general ways: observation, verbal questioning or written questionnaires,
and assignment of tasks. The child's pediatrician, parents, or
teacher may ask for psychological assessment to gain a greater
understanding of the child's development and needs. There are many
, and the psychologist must choose the ones that will provide the most
relevant and reliable information in each situation. Often multiple tests
are performed. However, most psychological assessments fall into one of
three categories: observational methods, personality inventories, or
Observations are made by a trained professional either in a familiar
setting (such as a classroom or playroom), an experimental setting, or
during an office interview.
, dolls, or other items are often included in the setting to provide
stimuli. The child may be influenced by the presence of an observer.
However, researchers report that younger children often become engrossed
in their activities and thus are relatively unaffected by the presence of
an observer. Sometimes, for example, if attention deficit is suspected,
several people are asked to observe the child under different
circumstances: the teacher at school, the parent at home, and the
psychologist in an office setting. Observational assessments are usually
combined with other types of educational or psychological assessments when
learning needs and behavioral problems are being evaluated.
A personality inventory is a questionnaire used with older children and
adults that contains questions related to the subject's feelings or
reactions to certain scenarios. One of the best-known personality
inventories for people over age 16 is the
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
(MMPI), a series of over 500 questions used to assess personality traits
and psychological disturbances. Interviews or verbal questionnaires for
personality assessment may be structured with a specific series of
questions or be unstructured, allowing the subject to direct the
discussion. Interviewers often use rating scales to record information
A projective test asks the test-taker to interpret ambiguous situations.
It requires a skilled, trained examiner to administer and interpret a
projective test. The reliability of these tests with children is difficult
to establish due to their subjective nature, with results varying widely
among different examiners. One well-known projective test is the Rorschach
Psycho-diagnostic Test, or inkblot test, first devised by the Swiss
psychologist Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s. Another widely used
projective test for people ages 14 to 40 is the
Thematic Apperception Test
(TAT), developed at Harvard University in the 1930s. In this test, the
subject is shown a series of pictures, each of which can be interpreted in
a variety of ways, and asked to construct a story based on each one. An
adaptation administered to children aged three to ten is the
Children's Apperception Test
(CAT). Apperception tests are administered to children individually by a
trained psychologist to assess personality, maturity, and psychological
ASSIGNMENT OF TASK ASSESSMENT
Assignment of tasks is an assessment method involving the performance of
a specific task or function. These tests are designed to inform the test
administrator about attributes such as the test-taker's abilities,
perceptions, and motor coordination. They can be especially helpful in
assessing if there is a physical or neurological component that needs to
be addressed medically or with occupational, speech, or physical therapy.
Assessment of children is challenging given the rapid changes in growth
they experience during childhood. In childhood, it is difficult to ensure
that the test-taker's responses will be stable for even a short
time. Thus, psychologists, educators, and other test administrators are
careful to take the stage of childhood into account when interpreting a
child's test scores.
Traditional standardized tests rely on specific, structured procedures,
which with young children presents some problems. Young children (
and early elementary years) do not have past experience and familiarity
with tests and have limited understanding of the expectations of testing
procedures. With young test-takers, the test administrator represents a
significant factor that influences success. The child must feel
comfortable with the test administrator and feel motivated to complete the
test exercise. The administrator helps support the test-taker's
attention to the test requirements. The testing environment affects all
test-takers but may represent a more significant variable for the youngest
One shortcoming of standardized testing is that it assumes that the same
instrument can evaluate all students. Because most standardized tests are
norm-referenced and measure a student's test performance against
the performance of other test-takers, students and educators focus their
efforts on the test scores, and schools develop curricula to prepare
students to take the test.
Other criticisms of standardized tests are that they are culturally
insensitive and that they may not accurately represent the abilities of
children in the United States for whom English is not their first language
or who are not a part of mainstream American culture. Finally, in middle
and high school settings, disgruntled students may inconspicuously
sabotage their tests since these scores do not affect the students'
own grades but reflect rather upon the competency of the teacher and the
Alternative assessments are subject to other concerns. Observer biases and
inconsistencies have been identified through study of the assessment
procedures. In the halo effect, the observer evaluates the child's
behavior in a way that confirms his general previous impression of the
child. For example, the observer believes a particular child is happy and
loving. If, when the observer assesses that child, the child lays a doll
face down on the table, the observer interprets this act as parenting
behavior. On the other hand, if the observer believes the child is angry
and hostile, when this child is observed laying the doll face down on the
table, the observer may interpret the action as aggression. The
expectations of the observer conveyed directly or through body language
and other subtle cues may also influence how the child performs and how
the observer records and interprets his or her observations. This observer
bias can influence the outcome of an assessment.
Parents are justifiably concerned that their child be evaluated fairly and
appropriately. They have the right to understand the purpose of the
assessment, how it will be performed, how the information will be used,
who will see the assessment results, and how the privacy of their child
will be protected. Any professional performing an educational or
psychological assessment should be willing discuss these concerns and to
share the results of the assessment and their implications with the
parent. Parents should be willing to share with examiners any information
that might alter interpretation of the assessment results (for example,
medical problems, cultural concerns).
Authentic task assessment
—Evaluation of a task performed by a student that is similar to
tasks performed in the outside world.
—An assessment that measures the achievement of specific
information or skills against a standard as opposed to being measured
against how others perform.
—An observer bias in which the observer interprets a
child's actions in a way that confirm the observer's
preconceived ideas about the child.
—A test that measures the performance of a student against the
performance of a group of other individuals.
—A student-controlled collection of student work products that
indicates progress over time.
—A test that follows a regimented structure, and each individuals
scores may be compared with those of groups of people. In the case of
the Cognistat, test taker's scores can be compared to groups of
young adults, middle-aged adults, the geriatric, and people who have
—A goal directed activity used in assessment.
California Achievement Tests (CAT)
Children's Apperception Test (CAT)
Carter, Phillip, and Ken Russell.
Psychometric Testing: 1000 Ways to Assess Your Personality, Creativity,
Intelligence, and Lateral Thinking.
New York: Wiley & Sons, 2001.
Handbook of Psychological Assessment
, 4th ed. New York: Wiley & Sons, 2003.
Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation.
The Student Evaluation Standards.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2003.
4405 Ellsworth Hall, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI
49008–5237. Web site: http://www.wmich.edu/evalctr/jc.
National Association for the Education of Young Children.
1509 16th Street, NW Washington, DC 20036. Web site: