Assessment is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs.
Assessments can be classified in many different ways. The most important distinctions are: (1) formative and summative; (2) objective and subjective; (3) referencing (criterion-referenced, norm-referenced, and ipsative); and (4) informal and formal.
Formative and summative
There are two main types of assessment:
Summative assessment - Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.
Formative assessment - Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a course or project. Formative assessment, also referred to as educative assessment, is used to aid learning. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be a teacher (or peer) or the learner, providing feedback on a student's work, and would not necessarily be used for grading purposes.
Summative and formative assessment are referred to in a learning context as "assessment of learning" and "assessment for learning" respectively.
A common form of formative assessment is diagnostic assessment. Diagnostic assessment measures a student's current knowledge and skills for the purpose of identifying a suitable program of learning. Self-assessment is a form of diagnostic assessment which involves students assessing themselves. Forward-looking assessment asks those being assessed to consider themselves in hypothetical future situations. Assessments can also be done on pieces of legislation.
Performance-based assessment is similar to summative assessment, as it focuses on achievement. It is often aligned with the standards-based education reform and outcomes-based education movement. Though ideally they are significantly different from a traditional multiple choice test, they are most commonly associated with standards-based assessment which use free-form responses to standard questions scored by human scorers on a standards-based scale, meeting, falling below, or exceeding a performance standard rather than being ranked on a curve.
A well-defined task is identified and students are asked to create, produce, or do something, often in settings that involve real-world application of knowledge and skills. Proficiency is demonstrated by providing an extended response. Performance formats are further differentiated into products and performances. The performance may result in a product, such as a painting, portfolio, paper, or exhibition, or it may consist of a performance, such as a speech, athletic skill, musical recital, or reading.
Objective and subjective
Assessment (either summative or formative) can be subjective. Objective assessment is a form of questioning which has a single correct answer. Subjective assessment is a form of questioning which may have more than one correct answer (or more than one way of expressing the correct answer). There are various types of objective and subjective questions. Objective question types include true/false answers, multiple choice, multiple-response and matching questions. Subjective questions include extended-response questions and essays. Objective assessment is becoming more popular due to the increased use of online assessment (e-assessment) since this form of questioning is well-suited to computerisation.
Bases of comparison
Test results can be compared against an established criterion, or against the performance of other students, or against previous performance:
Criterion-referenced assessment, typically using a criterion-referenced test, as the name implies, occurs when candidates are measured against defined (and objective) criteria. Criterion-referenced assessment is often, but not always, used to establish a person’s competence (whether s/he can do something). The best known example of criterion-referenced assessment is the driving test, when learner drivers are measured against a range of explicit criteria (such as “Not endangering other road users”).
Norm-referenced assessment (colloquially known as "grading on the curve"), typically using a norm-referenced test, is not measured against defined criteria. This type of assessment is relative to the student body undertaking the assessment. It is effectively a way of comparing students. The IQ test is the best known example of norm-referenced assessment. Many entrance tests (to prestigious schools or universities) are norm-referenced, permitting a fixed proportion of students to pass (“passing” in this context means being accepted into the school or university rather than an explicit level of ability). This means that standards may vary from year to year, depending on the quality of the cohort; criterion-referenced assessment does not vary from year to year (unless the criteria change).
Ipsative assessment is self comparison either in the same domain over time, or comparative to other domains within the same student.
Informal and formal
Assessment can be either formal or informal. Formal assessment usually implicates a written document, such as a test, quiz, or paper. A formal assessment is given a numerical score or grade based on student performance, whereas an informal assessment does not contribute to a student's final grade. An informal assessment usually occurs in a more casual manner and may include observation, inventories, checklists, rating scales, rubrics, performance and portfolio assessments, participation, peer and self evaluation, and discussion.
This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Assessment Tools. The Official Guide to Assessment Tools is Stephen Brennan. Steve Brennan, founder and president of Peak Performance Consultants, brings a wealth of experience, excitement and creativity to the field of motivation and education. The former educator and college basketball coach has Masters degrees in Educational Administration and Sport Psychology, and a Doctorate in Performance and Health Psychology.
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