11 Basic Principles For Assessment

As part of this post, I will review and reflect on the “11 basic principles of assessment” that are discussed in the article titled,

Fundamental Assessment Principles for Teachers and School Administrators”

James H. McMillan

of Virginia Commonwealth University.


1) Assessment is inherently a process of professional judgment

This principle suggests that assessment is ultimately a function of someone’s judgment. Whether you are creating the test, creating rubrics, scoring constructed responses, assessments always incorporate some sort of subjective decision.  When using assessments in education, we need to think about the quality and intention of other professional’s judgments.  And conversely, when we create them, we need to be conscious of how our own judgments are effect our assessments.

Sitting in a group of four teachers who are trying to grade the same pile of papers with the same rubric, I realized we all had different expectations and assumptions coming into this process. Ultimately, I realized that we need not be the same in our initial judgment, but we should try to reach a mutual understanding of what we are assessing and how we will assess it.

2) Assessment is based on separate but related principles of measurement evidence and evaluation.

I was really interested by this distinction. Interpreting “data” through a statistical lens is different from our interpretation as educators. Much like researchers and business analysts, we look for strengths and weaknesses, statistical trends, validity, reliability, correlations in the data.  We look at numbers and not students. This is measurement evidence.

Then we shift, we move towards an evaluation of this evidence. This evaluation or “meaning-making” as I like to call it, refers to the judgment of the reviewers of how, why and what of the performance data in relationship to a specific objective.

3) Assessment decision-making is influenced by a series of tensions.

I had never really thought about the tensions in assessment decision making process.  Ultimately, I think we need to be aware of the tensions, especially assessment overload, when creating assessments. And as the author states, we need to prioritize when creating assessments or deciding which ones to use in our classrooms.

4) Assessment influences student motivation and learning.

This principle provides a salient point. Quality assessments, especially formative ones, provide students with an opportunity to learn. Providing feedback and opportunities for revision are two ways assessments can achieve this goal. Clearly, the quality and speed of feedback will effect learning much as they do in everyday teaching and learning. Assessments that carry high student motivation are also of high demand in the modern classroom. I believe that teachers will get a better picture of what students know when they take assessments that they are engaged in and motivated by. With a clearer picture, teachers can give more precise and relevant feedback. They can also plan future instruction more efficiently.  I attached a link I used below to start a short unit of study on the Pilgrims. My purpose was to elicit student motivation and to give quality feedback.

5) Assessment contains error.

I don’t think educators need to dwell on this point. But again, they need to be aware that some assessments and the data associated with it, needs to be scrutinized with a cautious eye. Anything that is highly unusual, might be unusual for a reason.  Educators need to be aware that at times, data may be misleading in a positive or negative direction. Again, in this case teachers need to revert back to their mathematical/statistical mindsets.

6) Good assessment enhances instruction.

Ideally, a teacher looks at himself/herself as an artists who continually tries to hone his/her craft with some good old quality action research. In doing so, a teacher is taking the emotions out and putting assessment in. Assessments range in their scope and formality. The information they provide for alterations to future instruction should vary greatly as well. It may affect the individual student in one ten minute conference or it might affect instruction for a three year focus across all grade levels. Regardless, it should inform the future by being reflective about the past.

7) Good assessment is valid.

Having valid data means your assessment measures what you intend it to measure. A clear alignment between learning objectives and learning outcomes helps validity. More important though, is the careful revision of assessments to ensure that they reflect intend learning outcomes.

8) Good assessment is fair and ethical.
Measures  should be taken to ensure that students are aware of the learning objectives early on in the learning process. They will also know how they will be assessed. This is very evident and essential  in my elementary classroom.   Also, assessments are created and monitored to ensure there is no stereotyping or bias involved.

9) Good assessments use multiple methods.
Whether assessing for instructional feedback or assessing for student performance  and grading, a variety of assessments types will paint a clearer picture for either purposes. Some assessments are quick and dirty and other long and arduous.  It is the comparison and synthesis of these assessments that makes your inferences and conclusions more robust and significant.

10) Good assessment is efficient and feasible.
I make weekly math tests that always involve five questions.  These assessments give me weekly feedback on my teaching. Because of the speed with which I can grade, students can have them graded as they finish.  As a result, the feedback is immediate for them as well.  Clearly, there are times where a more summative assessment is appropriate but for the most part the advantage of using assessments that provide quick and easy feedback are essential. Seeing as this assessment is easy for me, I am able to implement it consistently. I believe this consistency establishes an expectation amongst the students that begins on Monday. They know they what they will be tested on and they know they will be getting feedback on Friday afternoon.
I think this particularly true for the modern student. They are used to receiving  information and feedback almost instantaneously. Anything I can do to assist that generational characteristic is valuable from a teaching standpoint.
11) Good assessment appropriately incorporates technology.
This principle ties into the aforementioned principle. Students are comfortable by technology. Their world is technology. They view technology as the most valuable tool for their own success. And for good reason, it will be.
First and foremost, the use of technology for assessments makes learning more relevant and engaging to students. They are inherently more engaged by something they perceive as valuable and real.
Secondly, technology makes assessments easy. Students can complete them with great facility. Teachers often get assessments results with little more than a press of a button. Data interpretation displays are immediately available.  And students get an idea of how they are doing instantly. In today’s day and age, instant information is critical.




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