Although many students, teachers and parents don’t like the process, testing is an essential part of every educational program. Assessments provide much-needed data. They allow educators to track their students’ progress and let concerned parties know what skills and content a student might be struggling with. In addition, they even provide data that helps make future academic decisions easier. They also give institutions like colleges and universities a way to measure potential candidates for future admission.
Testing is important. A whole field of research and practice accommodates it. This field is full of terms that, while important, are difficult for most people to understand. It’s impossible to go through each and every one of them. But here are 15 testing terms that everyone should definitely know, in no particular order.
When it comes to testing, there are a lot of different types of assessments out there, and each one does something different. In the classroom, the two most commonly used types of assessments are formative and summative.
Formative assessments are tests given during the course of a lesson or unit and are designed to measure a student’s progress while his or her knowledge is still forming (hence the word “formative”). These might include CFU (Checking for Understanding) moments, quizzes, benchmark tests, diagnostics and other assessments that are meant to measure progress up to a certain point. The teacher uses this information to plan future content.
When a teacher can determine what students know, it’s very helpful. When a teacher can determine what students don’t know, he or she can then help those students better learn and master that content. Formative assessments can be graded, but they don’t have to be, since that is not their main purpose.
In contrast to formative testing, a summative assessment takes place at the end of a unit or lesson. Summative assessments determine or “sum up” what a student does or does not know (hence the word “summative”).
When a student gets a summative assessment, it’s expected that they previously mastered all the content presented up to that point. Usually, these sorts of tests are graded and often weigh pretty heavily. This is because summative assessments are used as the main tool to determine whether or not a student has actually learned what was expected of them. These tests can include final exams and unit tests.
A diagnostic test is a specific form of formative assessment, usually given at the very beginning of a class, term or unit of study. This kind of test finds out what a student knows and what a student doesn’t know.
Many students get upset when they get items wrong on a diagnostic exam, but that is actually the point – it’s the wrong answers that allow a teacher to design lessons that will meet the needs of the students in the class. For this reason, diagnostic tests should never be counted as a grade.
An aptitude test measures a student’s potential. We often see these sorts of tests, including the SAT and the ACT, being used as part of an entrance package to colleges and universities.
The idea is that these tests do not assess what someone knows as much as what they have the potential to learn and do. Colleges then use that information when deciding what sort of person to admit into their institution.
A performance assessment measures a student’s skill in a particular area. These tests are less about knowledge and more about ability. Of course, a performance assessment can only be used if there is some sort of performance aspect to assess. So, you will often see these type of assessments in fields such as art, dance or music.
Many academic activities require skills rather than content. For example, one could argue that being able to successfully construct an argument is an academic piece that requires skill, not just knowledge.
A portfolio is a type of assessment that asks students to collect samples of their work. An artist, for example, might put together a collection of his or her best drawings, or a writer might compile a file of their best short stories or poems. A teacher evaluates this collection of work.
Overall judgement must take into consideration multiple works that showcase a variety of skills and ideas.
With all of the various tests available, it’s important to know whether or not a test is any good. Does the test actually do what it is supposed to do? With that being said, one major quality that test-makers and users look for in an assessment is validity.
Validity pertains to what the test actually measures. Does the vocabulary test actually show if the student knows those words? Does the math test actually show if a student knows the math concepts being tested? This might seem easy to figure out, but it isn’t always so. Sometimes, a test is full of “hidden” issues that make it unreliable.
Many assessments use a rubric to help the teacher determine a grade. A rubric is nothing more than a matrix that determines what should be present in an answer for the student to earn a specific score. These are often great ways to take a seemingly subjective process (like writing, for example) and make it graded on more objective standards.
In addition, a rubric is great for breaking down large pieces into smaller, more gradable bits. For example, rather than just grade an essay as a whole, a teacher can look at grammar, vocabulary, organization, etc. The teacher then gives each element its own individual score based on its criteria.
A scaffolded assessment is a sequential type of test that starts off easy and then progressively gets more difficult as the test continues. Each item gets more and more difficult and relies more on student knowledge and skill.
These assessments measure how far a student progresses in a particular area. Or summatively, to see whether or not a student has mastered something to the level required by the course standards.
The term “authentic assessment” refers to any sort of test that seeks to recreate real-world situations. Think of language learning, for example. Instead of practicing awkward conversations about food in a classroom, an authentic assessment might involve setting up a fake restaurant table and simulating a customer and waiter having a conversation about the menu. This technique makes the skill easier for the student to apply and learn outside of the classroom.
A benchmark is a specific type of formative assessment. These are most commonly used when a unit of study has a predetermined set of standards that are supposed to be met by the end of the unit.
The benchmark is used along the way to see how close students are to meeting those standards. It also determines what learning gaps need to be addressed. The teacher uses this knowledge to help plan future content.
Many standardized tests, report student ability in the form of a percentile. This is a number between 1 and 100 (like a percent) that shows how the student compares to other similar students across the area. A student in the 75th percentile on a skill can be said to have performed better than 75% of all the students who took that same assessment.
A standards-based assessment is a test that specifically measures a student’s progress or understanding of certain standards. The standards might be teacher-chosen, school-wide or created by some other governing entity. In today’s educational system, it’s usually a state-wide government choice.
The assessment then measures a student’s knowledge of those particular standards. Other content or skills don’t undergo assessment.
The statistics of a test reveal the standard deviation. Standard deviation measures how varied the scores on a particular assessment might be. A test with a wide distribution of scores, from very low to very high, has a high deviation. A test where most students all score similarly to one another has a low standard deviation.
A student’s individualized needs will determine if they need accommodations. Most often, students with a disability receive allowances. The accommodation is an exception to the normal testing rules. It gives the student a more even playing field and compensates for the disadvantages that stem from that disability.
Common accommodations include extra time on tests, special seating, a change in a testing environment (a small group setting, for example) or the use of extra tools such as a calculator. It is only after a medical professional documents a disability that students receive accommodations.
Contact Make the Grade
Of course, experts use many other terms when it comes to testing and assessment. If you would like to know more about testing and how Make the Grade can help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us today!