December 5, 2007

Beyond Tests and Quizzes'

With federal and state officials, accreditors and others all talking about
the importance of assessment, what's going on in classrooms? Assessment,
after all, takes place every time a professor gives a test. A new volume of
Beyond Tests and Quizzes: Creative Assessments in the College Classroom
(Jossey-Bass) argues that assessments in the classroom could be more
creative and more useful to the educational process. The editors of the
volume are Richard Mezeske, chair of education at Hope College, and Barbara
A. Mezeske, an associate professor of English at Hope. In an e-mail
interview, they discussed the themes of their new book.

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); Q: What do you see as the major failings of the tests used in most

A: It is not that tests have failings, but that tests are limited.
Conventional paper and pencil tests should not be the sole means for
assessing student learning because tests are by their very nature single
snapshots in time of student learning, often limited to "what do they
remember" under pressure. Tests, alongside other assessment tools, can
inform teaching by providing multiple lenses for considering what it is that
students know and can do. If, at a given point in the semester the teacher
discovers (through timely assessment) that students are not getting it, and
either do not know the material, or cannot do anything with what they know
(i.e., they can't apply their knowledge), then instruction can be shifted on
the spot to rectify the situation. Multiple assessment tools are always
preferable to the single test.

Q: How different are different disciplines in the way they use tests?

A: They vary extensively. It seems to us that some disciplines lend
themselves more readily to applications or to problem-based demonstrations
of learning than others. We think immediately of the social sciences, and
also of any discipline which assesses students based on their writing. In
the arts, skill is best demonstrated in applied fashion. Science courses
with robust laboratory components afford many opportunities for creative,
non-test assessment of learning.

Some disciplines rely on one, two, or three tests each semester as their
sole means of assessment, and these tests are often focused on rote recall
of facts. Content knowledge, to be sure, is essential, but tests (and
ongoing assessments) need to give students opportunities to demonstrate not
just recall, but also application. Test experiences can challenge students
to a deeper level of mastery by requiring them to use facts in new and
creative ways to demonstrate understanding, and to tap into their personal
schemas. Too often tests are designed to measure what students do not know:
Since we all know far less than there is to know and understand at a deep
level about a given topic, concept, or discipline, constructing a test to
prove that is a simple matter. However, if students are to know concepts X,
Y, and Z at the end of a course, then designing assessments, and yes, tests,
to confirm that is a tougher process. That's because rote recall cannot be
the sole indicator of knowledge and understanding. The tests or assessments
have to be multifaceted and must assess multiple layers of student knowledge
about X, Y, or Z.

It's just common sense to encourage learning beyond the rote level. For
years, the business community has complained about employees (i.e.,
graduates of our schools) who cannot solve problems, who cannot work
independently or collaboratively, or who need constant direction. Creating
tests that measure the knowledge and skills at the levels where application
can occur will not solve these problems in and of themselves, but a
concerted global effort to move beyond rote learning can be a major
component in developing a thoughtful, creative, and adaptable citizenry who
can demonstrate knowledge and skills in new and creative ways to solve
problems we cannot yet even imagine. We need to collectively move students
away from the mindset that asks, "Is this on the test?" to "This is
interesting. How might I use it in the future?"

Q: Could you share your definition of "creative assessment" and some of your
favorite examples?

A: Creative assessment is flexible, timely, and interesting to both the
instructor and to the student. When teachers shift instruction based on
student feedback, then they are being flexible and creative. We do not mean
that teachers should design ever more imaginative and bizarre assessment
tools, or that they should ignore mandated curricular content. Rather,
creative assessment, as we use the term, implies focused attention to
student learning, reading the signs, engaging students, and listening to
their feedback. Creative assessment often gives students opportunities to
apply and deepen their superficial knowledge in their discipline.

For example, in the chapter in our book about teaching grammar, Rhoda Janzen
describes an assessment that requires students to devise and play grammar
games: They cannot do that without a deep mastery of the principles they are
learning. In another chapter, Tom Smith describes how he grades individuals'
tests during private office appointments: He affirms correct responses, asks
students to explain incomplete or erroneous answers, and both gives and gets
immediate, personal feedback on a student's ability to recall and apply
concepts. In a third chapter, David Schock writes about taking
media-production skills into the community, allowing students to demonstrate
their knowledge and skills by creating public service announcements and
other media products for an audience outside the classroom.

Q: How is technology (the Web, etc.) changing the potential of testing and

A: Technology is expanding the possibilities for assessment while at the
same time complicating assessment. For example, checking understanding of a
group and individuals during instruction is now relatively simple with
electronic tools which allow students to press a button and report what they
believe about concept X. The results are instantaneously displayed for an
entire class to see and the instructor can adjust instruction based on that
feedback. However, technology can complicate, too. How is a teacher able to
guarantee student X working at a remote computer station on an assessment is
actually student X, and not student Y covering for student X? Does the
technology merely make the assessment tool slick without adding substance to
the assessment? In other words, merely using technology does not
automatically make the assessment clever, substantive, correct, or even
interesting, but it can do all of those things.

Q: In the national debates about assessment, many policy makers place an
emphasis on comparability. How important do you think it is that tests be

A: In our experience, the best measures of learning take into account the
immediate circumstances of classroom and teacher, as well as the individual
learner. Good assessment tells you what people know and can do, and since
people are different from one another, one learner might best demonstrate
his knowledge by taking a standard pen and paper test, while another might
best demonstrate his knowledge by designing a multi-media presentation. One
purpose of good assessment is always to shape subsequent instruction.

Q: What are the lessons from this book for people engaged in the national
debate over assessment?

A: With the pressures to move to more mandated standardized testing to
determine what it is that students know, we may be limiting both teaching
and learning. We have not taken a stand against standardized tests - they're
the law, and we do them. However, such tests should not be the sole means
for determining what makes for a well-equipped and knowledgeable citizen of
the 21st century. If teachers are focused on a mandated lesson and rote
recall of facts in that lesson, they may shortchange students who need one
more opportunity to consider the concepts in ways which might be personally
meaningful and are connected to personal schema or prior knowledge. But if
checking in with students periodically about what they know and understand
allows for subtle shifts in teaching to reinforce concepts, even while state
and national mandates are met, then we are all better off.

-    Scott Jaschik <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 

-    Source:


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