The word assessment can strike fear in the hearts of both teachers and students. Teachers worry about whether they have properly prepared their students to do well on assessments while students worry about whether they will pass the test. However, assessments can be used as a valuable learning tool if properly implemented. “The shift in consciousness from assessment data as organizational hammer to its use as a tool in strategic planning is slow but critical if we in school are to truly develop learning organizations” (Hearne, 1). Assessment results can be used to obtain a clear picture of what is currently happening in classrooms as well as to determine what still needs to be done (Hearne, 1). Normative, criterion referenced and curriculum referenced assessment models are discussed. Information about the value of assessment in preschool settings and for students with disabilities is also offered. Finally, the process of Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment is analyzed.
Normative assessment tests are more often referred to as standardized tests. This type of test compares a student’s score to the scores of classmates or other larger group of students based on a multiple choice model of testing. The test is administered in the same exact way for each student in order to collect the most accurate data set. This information is then used to help schools and school districts identify what needs to be done in order to ensure that all students are performing at grade level but the information on the test isn’t based on any specific classroom curriculum (Dietel, 1). Standardized testing is often the norm in school districts across the country. The debate among educators is whether norm referenced tests really show student progress or not (Peterson & Neill, 1). Standardized testing received a lot of media attention because of the No Child Left Behind laws that mandate teachers and schools to perform as a high ranking school (Dietel, 1). However, as far as scope and sequence go standardized testing may not be the best way to go (Peterson & Neill, 1).
The challenge with scope and sequence and normative assessment is to match the test to what is being learned in the classroom. However, in order to properly assess percentiles of students, many questions on the test are outside of the knowledge of students (Peterson & Neill, 1). The goal of standardized testing with regards to scope and sequence is a noble one – that is to improve student performance (Peterson & Neill, 1). However, critics say, the main goal should be to improve student learning rather than using a test that only shows what a child knows on one given day. This shows the link between assessment and intervention. The fact that normative referenced tests only show what a student knows on any given day doesn’t allow for good intervention (Peterson & Neill, 1). Instead, students should be assessed using actual student work as this is a better tool to use when deciding which students may need intervention services (Peterson & Neill, 1).
Criterion referenced assessment tests are used to determine whether each student has achieved specific skills or concepts (Huitt, 1). It is used to discover how much a student knows before instruction and how much they know after instruction (Huitt, 1). Criterion referenced tests differ from normative tests because they test on material included in classroom curriculum. The skills measured on criterion referenced tests are identified by teachers and each skill is correlated with an educational outcome (Huitt, 1). The questions included on this type of test are based on what a student is learning in the classroom and includes questions that are at grade level. In other words, in contrast to normative tests, criterion referenced tests don’t include information outside of the abilities of students based on grade level.
Scope and sequence can be determined using criterion referenced assessment tests because each skill included on the test is characterized using at least four items in order to gain an adequate sample of each skill from the student (Huitt, 1). In addition, the items included on the test are all of similar difficulty level in order to reduce the chances of guessing and focus more on student ability (Huitt, 1). The link between this type of test and intervention is based on the individual score of each student as compared to a preset standard. This eliminates comparisons among other students (Huitt, 1). Therefore, intervention strategies can be developed based on the individual abilities of each student rather than on comparisons with other students.
Curriculum referenced tests are used in the classroom to assess student learning based on classroom curriculum. The material included on these tests is based on textbook and instructional material (Dietel, 2). Curriculum referenced tests can be in the form of multiple-choice, true/false, short answer, essay, performance, displays or exhibits, and even computer administered tests (Dietel, 2). As far as scope and sequence and the link between assessment and intervention, curriculum referenced tests may provide the most accurate data.
Curriculum referenced tests allow teachers to give students ongoing feedback about their performance so that as the sequence of educational material is presented, students who need additional instruction can receive that type of intervention as soon as the problem is presented (Dietel, 2). In addition, curriculum tests can show student progress over the sequence of lessons in any given curriculum area. In combination with teacher observation and student work, curriculum referenced tests give educators immediate information about strengths and weaknesses of each student so that proper intervention can be obtained immediately so that students don’t fall behind educationally (Dietel, 2).
Inclusive preschool settings have great use for assessment. Assessment tests allow preschool educators to gather information for decision making regarding preschool students’ developmental and educational needs (Epstein, et al, 1). Testing is one form of assessment used by preschool educators, but it shouldn’t the sole source of educational information (Epstein, et al, 2). Formal testing can provide useful information with regards to number skills and literacy skills so that teachers can provide intervention instruction as necessary (Epstein, et al, 1). Alternate forms of assessment should be used in combination with formal testing in order to identify students who need further instruction before it is too late (Epstein, et al, 2).
Assessment models can be used to screen preschool students when parents or teachers begin to suspect a problem. When screening indicates a problem, further assessment can be used to collect more information in order to provide the best intervention methods available (Epstein, et al, 3). Normative referenced tests are the most formal assessments used in preschool settings. These tests are used as comparison measures across large groups of students. Normative tests are more useful in discovering whether a specific preschool program is meeting objectives rather than how each individual student is performing (Epstein, et al, 5).
Informal preschool assessments can be considered more authentic measures of student achievement (Epstein, et al, 6). These assessments allow educators to observe students in their natural learning environment engaging in learning opportunities that occur on a daily basis. Informal assessments are concerned with curriculum and are based on the specific goals of curriculum. Informal assessments are longitudinal in that they observe student learning over a period of time (Epstein, et al, 6). Informal assessments may provide better information to preschool teachers about which students may need immediate intervention because this information is based on current skills.
Whatever type of assessment is ultimately chosen to ensure that all students are performing as necessary; there are certain guidelines that must be followed in order to obtain valid and reliable results. First, the assessment shouldn’t scare the child as this will not encourage accurate information. Second, information gathered from tests should span a large amount of time. Therefore, standardized tests should not be the sole source of intervention information. Third, a combination of different assessment styles will ensure that all students are being given ample opportunity to show what they know through a variety of methods. Fourth, the length of the assessment should take into consideration the attention span of preschool students. Finally, assessment should incorporate appropriate sampling methods whenever feasible in order to eliminate the need to test each and every child each and every time (Epstein, et al, 8). When these guidelines are in place, preschool teachers have the best chance of choosing appropriate interventions as soon as a problem is presented.
Assessments are also essential when working with students with developmental disabilities. As with all children, students with developmental disabilities have certain characteristics that may make one test more suitable than another. The growth and development of each individual student must be analyzed in order to provide the most effective testing measure. Students with disabilities are often educated using an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These plans are developed by teachers and parents in order to give students with disabilities the best chance of success at school (Bachrach, 1). Students struggling in school can qualify for an IEP in order to help individualize curriculum to their ability level (Bachrach, 1).
With regards to assessment, normative tests can be used in similar ways to how they are used with preschool children. Number skills and literacy skills can be assessed for ability on a particular day. However, students with disabilities benefit more from alternate assessment models. Curriculum and criterion referenced tests provide more accurate information about student progress so that teachers are able to identify problems as soon as they become apparent. IEPs can give students with disabilities alternate ways to be assessed that will provide the best information based on their abilities (Bachrach, 1).
Transdisciplinary Play-Based Assessment (TPBA) involves the child in both structured and unstructured play situations with a facilitating adult and/or other children. It is designed for children from birth to age six and provides “provides an opportunity for developmental observations of general knowledge, social-emotional, communication, sensorimotor, and self-help domains” (Linder, 1). TPBA differs from traditional assessment because parents and other intervention specialists are an active part of the process (Hettie, et al, 2). This method is also different because it results in immediate and meaningful information that can lead to immediate objectives and strategies for intervention (Hettie, et al, 2).
There are several pros to using TPBA. The first is that the play environment is less stressful to the child (Hettie, et al, 2). Second, it meets legislative and professional requirements while at the same time addressing the diverse needs of different students (Hettie, et al, 2). Finally, play is a natural phenomenon among children and can provide authentic information (Hettie, et al, 2). The con to using TPBA is that there are limitations based on age ranges and ranges of skill items in different children. The other con is that results are based on professional judgment and this can vary across different professionals (Hettie, et al, 2).
Toni W. Linder provides important research information about the importance of TPBA as an assessment tool in young children. Using structured and unstructured play allows facilitating adults such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, licensed specialists in school psychology and early childhood special education teachers to observe children in their natural environment in order to see how each child is performing in certain developmental and educational areas (1993). This research is important because it provides an easy and inexpensive alternative to normative, criterion and curriculum referenced tests that are used with older children.
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