Assess the Assessment
Assessments may be the most challenging job of any teacher. The purpose of any assessment is to measure learning in order to determine if a student successfully grasps the content. There are generally three assessments: formative, summative and standardized testing.
Consider formative assessments as an ongoing pulse check: a teacher may review the progress of an assignment, check in on the level of understanding with general questions or otherwise evaluate if the student is progressing during the course of study. Feedback from formative assessments is generally qualitative.
Summative assessments, on the other hand, happen at the conclusion of a particular unit or group of lessons. Students will recognize a summative assessment as a final exam, unit test or term paper. These assessments provide teachers and students with more quantitative feedback.
The other type of assessment is a standardized test, like the ACT or the SAT. The purpose of a standardized test is to compare student performance across a diverse population of test takers. Questions and answers are “standardized” so that one test can be used to compare and contrast many students. The feedback for these tests, for obvious reasons, is strictly quantitative.
Each assessment requires a unique method of preparation. As many SAT students learn, preparation for a standardized test is vastly different than preparation for a summative assessment. While most students, particularly at the secondary level, learn how to prepare for a summative assessment, few learn how to prepare for a standardized test.
Given the current trend of using standardized test scores more frequently to evaluate student and/or teacher performance, students and teachers alike may need to shift their assessment focus from summative to standardized. You may disagree that standardized tests are the best measure of student performance, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore standardized test preparation.