Efficient Assessment, Part 1: The Questions

Assessment is one of those aspects of education that even good teachers can take for granted.  We prepare our students for state and local high-stakes tests, but we also write our own tests and quizzes.  We use student work to gauge mastery, and we question students during class to ascertain their weaknesses.

We do all of this on a daily or weekly basis, but how often do we really think about what we are doing and why?

Along with my obsession for grading practices, I have a little “problem” with assessment.  While some teachers reuse their tests from year to year, I always start with a blank page and create them anew.  I perseverate over the minutiae of each quiz.  I write and rewrite and re-rewrite each question.  It’s not healthy.

Would you like a glimpse inside my crazy head?  Let’s assume you’re nodding your head.

When I’m planning an assessment, I try to consider several factors:

  1. Validity: How closely does this match what I want students to learn?
  2. Reliability: Would all students with the same level of mastery get the same score?
  3. Authenticity: Are students asked to demonstrate the actual skills that I want them to master?  Will the results really tell me what they know?
  4. Efficiency: How much time and effort will it take to capture these data relative to their utility?

For me, validity is the biggest reason that I create my own assessments.  I know what is on the state curriculum and I know how I have interpreted it for my class.  I can ensure that my assessment provides useful information about my students’ mastery.  Reliability comes from removing bias and making the questions as clear as they can be.  Assessment isn’t about playing “gotcha” and rewarding those who can decipher the clues.  It’s about measuring curriculum mastery.

Authenticity is a spectrum that extends from super-simple, multiple-choice quizzes on one end to performance assessments (like lab practicals or oral questions) on the other.  In my experience, authenticity and efficiency are constantly in opposition.  The most authentic assessment that a classroom teacher can reasonably use is going to consist of short-answer or essay questions in which a student must demonstrate their understanding (with no lucky guesses possible).  But, this is exactly the type of assessment that is incredibly labor-intensive to score.  Ask any Language Arts teacher and you’ll hear horror stories of grading essays that take 10-15 minutes each.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, the easiest type of assessment to grade requires no teacher judgment, it’s just a multiple-choice test.  This assessment provides quick data, but at what cost?  How much can you trust in the results of an assessment like this?  How many responses were just the result of good luck, not true understanding?

These questions or more run through my head whenever I plan lessons.  So, why does assessment keep me up at night?  In my next post, I’ll explain how new assessment tools like edmodo, MasteryConnect, student responders, and Socrative fit into my assessment strategy.

photo credit: Marco Bellucci via photopin cc

One thought on “Efficient Assessment, Part 1: The Questions

  1. Paul wrote:

    Assessment isn’t about playing “gotcha” and rewarding those who can decipher the clues

    – – – – – – – – – –
    But here’s the thing, Paul: That’s EXACTLY what standardized tests are – and given the weight that standardized tests play in the lives of classroom teachers, can we really be surprised when they slip into the same routines when they write their own assessments?

    I LOVE what you’re doing. I wish EVERY teacher would do the same things. I just think we’re screwed because the word “assessment” has been so corrupted. It doesn’t mean the things you write about. It means a multiple choice gotcha test that teachers are going to be rewarded and/or punished for.


    Anyway…hope you’re well — and that you don’t rip the rest of your hair out when the Bills throttle the Pats this weekend.




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