Assessment Help for Teachers On Way

By Lynn Olson — May 08, 2002 5 min read
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Teachers make judgments about students every day, based on such formal and informal appraisals of their work as classroom observation, homework assignments, and teacher-made quizzes. Soon, they’ll have the first set of professional standards to help guide them in making such decisions.

The 220-page “Student Evaluation Standards” is on track to be approved this week by the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation, a nonprofit group whose members represent 18 national education organizations.

The Joint Committee on Standards for Education Evaluation provides additional information on the proposed student evaluation standards, including an overview of how they were developed and a draft summary.

Five years in the making, the standards address an array of issues, such as planning evaluations, grading students, reporting the results, and identifying who has the right to view and use the information. The document also explores how to assess students from diverse backgrounds.

The standards do not focus on large-scale testing programs, such as those that states administer for their accountability systems. Guidance on large- scale testing is embodied primarily in the “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.”

But the standards on student evaluation do discuss how information from such assessments might be applied in classrooms.

“If you think about the value of learning, and the ways that we promote learning, probably nothing has a stronger impact than the kind of feedback we give our students,” said Donald B. Yarbrough, a member of the joint committee and the director of the Center for Evaluation and Assessment at the University of Iowa.

“The student-evaluation standards address best practices with regard to how you give this feedback to learners,” he said. “I think there’s just enormous potential for improvement in our system, if the standards are applied.”

Aimed at K-12 and College

While the standards focus primarily on teachers and higher education faculty members, they also are intended to help students, parents, administrators, and others judge the evaluations that students receive. Their developers also hope that university professors will use them to prepare future educators.

“For younger children, it’s important for parents to have an understanding of what they can and should expect in terms of the evaluation of their children,” said Arlen R. Gullickson, the chairman of the joint committee and a professor of education at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “For older students, at the college level especially, it’s important for them to know what their rights and responsibilities are.”

Eighteen national education organizations sponsored the development of the standards, including the American Association of School Administrators, the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Council on Measurement in Education, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.

Representatives from each group served on the committee, which is expected to approve the standards at its May 9-11 meeting in Kalamazoo. After that step, the standards will be reviewed by the American National Standards Institute, a national certifying body. If they are approved, Corwin Press plans to publish them in December. Work on the standards also was supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, based in Battle Creek, Mich.

Using Data Effectively

The 28 standards do not prescribe specific assessment methods or data analyses. Instead, they provide a framework for designing and assessing student appraisals so that they are “fair, useful, feasible, and accurate.”

“These student-evaluation standards are really about the use of data from tests and from other kinds of evaluations of students,” said Rolf K. Blank, the director of education indicators for the Washington- based Council of Chief State School Officers, who serves on the committee. “They focus on how teachers, administrators, specialists, and others should appropriately use information, and what cautions they should have about it.”

Western Michigan’s Mr. Gullickson pointed out that most teachers have had minimal, if any, training in classroom assessment, yet are expected to make complex decisions on the run. “What I want is something that people can put on their desks, and they can refer to it in times of trouble,” he said.

Some of the standards examine practical concerns, such as the purposes of student evaluation, the use of information from multiple sources, and a student’s right to maintain the confidentiality of such information. Others zero in on such difficult issues as teacher biases, student cheating, and the need for mediation when charges of unfair or unsound student examinations are made.

The standards focus on the classroom level, based on the belief that “strong student learning requires consistent, persistent, indeed, daily attention to effectively gathering, analyzing, and using evaluation information to guide student learning.”

Adherence to the standards, an introduction to the guidelines notes, should help minimize the chance that an evaluation will negatively influence a student.

The draft standards are organized around four attributes the committee believes are necessary for evaluating students soundly and fairly:

  • “Propriety” standards set out the rights of individuals affected by an evaluation. They discuss such matters as student and parent rights, privacy, access to information, and the protection of human subjects.

  • “Utility” standards seek to ensure that student reviews are informative, timely, and influential. They look at such matters as the purposes of the practice and how and by whom results will be used.

  • “Feasibility” standards address the practicalities of designing evaluation measures, given political and resource constraints.

  • “Accuracy” standards help determine whether an evaluation has produced sound information. In particular, the document notes, the appraisal methods should be appropriate to their purpose and the students being judged.

The draft standards were field-tested in more than 60 classrooms, so that teachers would have an opportunity to gauge their usefulness and feasibility, as well as provide suggestions for their improvement.

In addition to a brief statement of the standard itself, each one includes the rationale for its importance, a suggested list of guidelines or practices for meeting the standard, common errors that teachers make, and case studies of how the standard has been applied well or inappropriately in the classroom.

At its meeting this week, the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation intends to consider whether to start a training program in the use of the standards. The committee also plans to produce a facilitator’s guide for districts, which will be available from Corwin Press.

A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2002 edition of Education Week as Assessment Help for Teachers On Way


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