Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on a Comprehensive Assessment System

A comprehensive assessment system serving the needs of students from preschool to the 12th grade must invariably include many different types of assessment. The various assessment types serve different purposes. Benchmark and formative assessments are designed to inform instruction. Pretests and posttests are useful for measuring academic progress. Screening instruments are useful in identifying students at risk for learning problems. Placement tests inform grade-level placements, and advanced course placements. Computerized Adaptive Tests provide efficient measures of academic proficiency. Automated construction of Computerized Adaptive Tests increases testing options and enhances the capability to meet unique local needs. Observational assessments provide authentic measures of competencies in the environment in which those competencies are used. In addition, they provide immediate information that can be used to guide instruction. Value-Added Assessments can identify classes and schools that are highly successful as well as those needing additional assistance.

As the extensive list in the preceding paragraph implies, the most obvious benefit of a comprehensive assessment system is that it helps to ensure that all of the school’s assessment needs are met. Insofar as possible this is accomplished by including all of the various required types of assessment within the system. The vast majority of assessment types will be native to the system. However, there may be some types that are imported into the system. Statewide test results provide a familiar example.

An additional benefit to a comprehensive assessment system is that it creates economies in the assessment process including the construction, publication, administration, scoring, and reporting technology necessary for system implementation. This is the case because the same technology can be used for many different types of assessments.

Perhaps the most important benefit of a comprehensive assessment system is that it supports the ability to adapt to continuous change, which is a hallmark of education in our times. Assessment needs change continuously. A well designed comprehensive assessment system includes technology capable of accommodating change. For example, a well designed system should include the ability accommodate continuously changing standards. It should have the capability to rapidly align items to those standards. It should include dynamic item banks that expand continuously. It should have the capability to generate innovative item types that will be required as the transition to online assessment accelerates, and it should be capable of incorporating new types of assessments to meet changing needs. A comprehensive assessment system should always be and will always be a work in progress. Nothing less will meet the educational challenges of the 21st century.