This Tips for Parents article authored by Dr. Mary Rissa is from a seminar she hosted for Young Scholar families. She provides information on the different types of assessment, addressing the different purposes of each and showing how each has a similar yet different set of instrumentation.
Regardless of where a child is educated, home or at school, the issue of assessment will arise. While testing has become such a commonplace occurrence in our education system, it should never be done without clear purpose and forethought. It is important to remember that there are different types of assessment, each with a different purpose and each will include similar yet different set of instrumentation.
First, there is the yes/no assessment. This type of assessment commonly answers the question “is my child gifted?” A yes/no assessment will be required for programs that have entrance requirements. All too often, the score becomes more important than the performance, which on face value is not a problem. The problems occur when we try to use the results of such an assessment to answer other questions about how a child learns or what should be done for the child beyond the entrance requirements. One test, particularly an IQ test, while it does provide invaluable information about cognitive function, does not provide enough information to drive instruction. For example, a child with advanced sequential abilities might be good at math or even reading comprehension because both of these areas require the ability to sequence (numbers or words). This is only an hypothesis that should be tested further, using an outcome measure based on content area to support the indicator of potential.
Next there is the “what now?” assessment where we try to pinpoint areas of strength to guide programming decisions. Generally this is accomplished by looking at measures of ability, aptitude, and even learning style. In a “what now” assessment we are looking at potential and other innate abilities to help find the right general placement for a child with a specific learning ability or preference. This level of assessment informs us about the information and skills the child has with regard to specific domains or content areas. Using standardized achievement tests will give us insight into the level of ability, as compared to the norm population, that the child has and help design a general plan for programming. This type of assessment will tell us that a child has ability in math and as such should have that curriculum advanced in some way. We can also learn that a child has outstanding verbal ability and written skills, thus benefitting from advanced work in language arts. In some cases, this type of assessment can describe functioning in specific areas within the curriculum and identify benchmarks and indicators to create an individual plan for the child. Guiding instruction is best accomplished by the next category of assessment.
The final level is the “what next” assessment. This requires a curriculum based assessment that guides what happens in the classroom. Curriculum based assessment tells us what specific information or skills the child has mastered using the expected curriculum as a benchmark. We begin with the material we anticipate to teach and test the child to see what specific items s/he has mastered thus allowing for a more individual learning experience. The most common form of this type of assessment occurs when the teacher uses pre-tests before a lesson or unit. Information from the pre-tests is used to eliminate or augment material based on the needs of the students. Another method that provides formative information are short-cycle diagnostic testing used to determine how well students perform and adjust instruction to match. Such assessment can be either criterion referenced, created by teachers based on lesson plans or standardized using assessments based on curriculum driven by state standards.
Parents can use the information in each type of assessment to help make decisions but should always compare results to what you know about your child. Your expertise is invaluable to the assessment process because no test can tell you what you already know about your child’s ability, emotional functioning, and style preferences. Children learn very quickly that actions have consequences, and whether they are informed about the results of an evaluation, they begin early to understand that their performance on a test will affect what happens and how people treat them. All decisions about when and how to test must be mitigated by the social and emotional ramifications for the child who may equate self-worth with performance on the test. To sum it up, having clear expectations for what you want to know will determine the outcomes you expect and influence the choices you make.