Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 10: Teacher-made Assessment Strategies

Kym teaches 6th grade students in an urban school where most of the families in the community live below the poverty line. Each year the majority of the students in her school fail the state-wide tests. Kym follows school district teaching guides and typically uses direct instruction in her Language Arts and Social Studies classes. The classroom assessments are designed to mirror those on the state-wide tests so the students become familiar with the assessment format. When Kym is in a graduate summer course on motivation she reads an article called, “Teaching strategies that honor and motivate inner-city African American students” (Teel, Debrin-Parecki, & Covington, 1998)[1] and she decides to change her instruction and assessment in Fall in four ways. First, she stresses an incremental approach to ability focusing on effort and allows students to revise their work several times until the criteria are met. Second, she gives students choices in performance assessments (e.g. oral presentation, art project, creative writing). Third, she encourages responsibility by asking students to assist in classroom tasks such as setting up video equipment, handing out papers etc. Fourth, she validates student’ cultural heritage by encouraging them to read biographies and historical fiction from their own cultural backgrounds. Kym reports that the changes in her students’ effort and demeanor in class are dramatic: students are more enthusiastic, work harder, and produce better products. At the end of the year twice as many of her students pass the State-wide test than the previous year.
An Afterward...: Kym still teaches 6th grade in the same school district and continues to modify the strategies described above. Even though the performance of the students she taught improved the school was closed because, on average, the students’ performance was poor. Kym gained a Ph.D. and teaches Educational Psychology to preservice and inservice teachers in evening classes.

Kym’s story illustrates several themes related to assessment that we explore in this chapter on teacher-made assessment strategies and in the next chapter on standardized testing. First, choosing effective classroom assessments is related to instructional practices, beliefs about motivation, and the presence of state-wide standardized testing. Second, some teacher-made classroom assessments enhance student learning and motivation, but others do not. Third, teachers can improve their teaching through action research. This involves identifying a problem (e.g., low motivation and achievement), learning about alternative approaches (e.g., reading the literature), implementing the new approaches, observing the results (e.g. students’ effort and test results), and continuing to modify the strategies based on their observations.

Best practices in assessing student learning have undergone dramatic changes in the last 20 years. When Rosemary [a contributor to this chapter] was a mathematics teacher in the 1970’s, she did not assess students’ learning that she tested them on the mathematics knowledge and skills she taught during the previous weeks. The tests varied little format and students always did them individually with pencil and paper. Now, however, many teachers--including mathematics teachers--use a wide variety of methods to determine what their students have learned and also use this assessment information to modify their instruction. In this chapter the focus is on using classroom or teacher-made assessments to improve student learning. (In Chapter 11 we discuss standardized and other formal assessments of learning.

Basic ConceptsEdit

Assessment is an integrated process of gaining information about students’ learning and making value judgments about their progress (Linn & Miller, 2005)[2]. Information about students’ progress can be obtained from a variety of sources including projects, portfolios, performances, observations, and tests. The information about students’ learning is often assigned specific numbers or grades and this involves measurement. Measurement answers the question, “How much?” and is used most commonly when the teacher scores a test or product and assigns numbers (e.g., 28 /30 on the biology test; 90/100 on the science project). Evaluation is the process of making judgments about the assessment information (Airasian, 2004)[3]. These judgments may be about individual students (e.g., should Jacob’s course grade take into account his significant improvement over the grading period?), the assessment method used (e.g., is the multiple choice test a useful way to obtain information about problem solving), or one’s own teaching (e.g., most of the students this year did much better on the essay assignment than last year so my new teaching methods seem effective).

The primary focus in this chapter is on assessment for learning, where the priority is designing and using assessment strategies to enhance student learning and development. Assessment for learning is often called formative assessment, i.e., it takes place during the course of instruction and provides information that teachers can use to revise their teaching and students can use to improve their learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall & Wiliam, 2004)[4]. Formative assessment includes both informal assessment involving spontaneous unsystematic observations of students’ behaviors (e.g., during a question and answer session or while the students are working on an assignment) and formal assessment involving preplanned, systematic gathering of data. Assessment of learning involves assessing students in order to certify their competence and to fulfill accountability mandates; it is the primary focus of the next chapter, which is primarily about standardized tests. Assessment of learning is typically summative, that is, administered after the instruction is completed (e.g., a final examination in an educational psychology course). Summative assessments provide information about how well students mastered the material, whether students are ready for the next unit, and what grades should be given.

Assessment for Learning: An OverviewEdit

Using assessment to advance students’ learning not just check on learning requires viewing assessment as a process that is integral to the all phases of teaching including planning, classroom interactions and instruction, communication with parents, and self-reflection (Stiggins, 2002)[5]. Essential steps in assessment for learning include:

Step 1: Having clear instructional goals and communicating them to students
In the previous chapter we documented the importance of teachers thinking carefully about the purposes of each lesson and unit. This may be hard for beginning teachers. For example, Vanessa, a middle school social studies teacher, might say that the goal of her next unit is, “Students will learn about the civil war.” Clearer goals require that Vanessa decides what it is about the civil wear she wants her students to learn, e.g. the dates and names of battles, the causes of the civil war, the differing perspectives of those living in the North and the South, or the day-to-day experiences of soldiers fighting in the war. Vanessa cannot devise appropriate assessments of her students’ learning about the civil war until she is clear about her own purposes.
For effective teaching Vanessa also needs to communicate clearly the goals and objectives to her students so they know what is important for them to learn. No matter how thorough a teacher’s planning has been, if students do not know what they are supposed to learn they will not learn as much. Because communication is so important to teachers, a specific chapter is devoted to this topic (Chapter 12).
Step 2: Selecting appropriate assessment techniques
Selecting and administrating assessment techniques that are appropriate for the goals of instruction as well as the developmental level of the students are crucial components of effective assessment for learning. Teachers need to know the characteristics of a wide variety of classroom assessment techniques and how these techniques can be adapted for various content, skills, and student characteristics. They also should understand the role reliability, validity, and the absence of bias should play is choosing and using assessment techniques. Much of this chapter focuses on this information.
Step 3. Using assessment to enhance motivation and confidence
Students’ motivation and confidence is influenced by the type of assessment used as well as the feedback given about the assessment results. Consider, Samantha a college student who takes a history class in which the professor’s lectures and text book focus on really interesting major themes. However, the assessments are all multiple choice tests that ask about facts and Samantha, who initially enjoys the classes and readings, becomes angry, loses confidence she can do well, and begins to spend less time on the class material. In contrast, some instructors have has observed that that many students in educational psychology classes like the one you are now taking will work harder on assessments that are case studies rather than more traditional exams or essays. The type of feedback provided to students is also important and we elaborate on these ideas later in this chapter.
Step 4: Adjusting instruction based on information
An essential component of assessment for learning is that the teacher uses the information gained from assessment to adjust instruction. These adjustments occur in the middle of a lesson when a teacher may decide that students’ responses to questions indicate sufficient understanding to introduce a new topic, or that her observations of students’ behavior indicates that they do not understand the assignment and so need further explanation. Adjustments also occur when the teacher reflects on the instruction after the lesson is over and is planning for the next day. We provide examples of adjusting instruction in this chapter, but teacher reflection is discussed in more detail in Chapter 13.
Step 5: Communicating with parents and guardians
Students’ learning and development is enhanced when teachers communicate with parents regularly about their children’s performance. Teachers communicate with parents in a variety of ways including newsletters, telephone conversations, email, school district websites and parent-teachers conferences. Effective communication requires that teachers can clearly explain the purpose and characteristics of the assessment as well as the meaning of students’ performance. This requires a thorough knowledge of the types and purposes of teacher made and standardized assessments and well as clear communication skills.

In the next sections of this chapter, we consider each of the above steps of assessment in more detail. First, however, we look how teachers can make sure that their assessments are of high quality in the first place.

Selecting appropriate assessment techniques, Part 1: High quality assessmentsEdit

For an assessment to be high quality it needs to have good validity and reliability as well as absence from bias.


Validity is the evaluation of the “adequacy and appropriateness of the interpretations and uses of assessment results” for a given group of individuals...(read more...)


Reliability refers to the consistency of measurement... Suppose that...(read more...)

Selecting Appropriate Assessment Techniques, Part 2: Types of Teacher-made AssessmentsEdit

One of the challenges for beginning teachers is to select and use appropriate assessment techniques. In this section we summarize the wide variety of types of assessments that classroom teachers use. First we discuss the informal techniques teachers use during instruction that typically require instantaneous decisions. Then we consider formal assessment techniques that teachers plan before instruction and allow for reflective decisions...(read more...)

Teacher’s observations, questioning, record keepingEdit

...(read more...)

Record Keeping

Selected response itemsEdit

Teachers commonly assess students using questions and items that are multiple choice, matching, or true/false. In selected response items, students choose a response provided by the teacher or test developer, rather than construct a response in their own words or actions...(read more...)

Common problems
Strengths and weaknesses

Constructed response itemsEdit

Formal assessment also includes constructed response items in which students are asked to recall information and create an answer – not just recognize if the answer is correct...(read more...)

Completion and short answer
Extended responses
Scoring rubrics

Performance assessmentsEdit

Typically in performance assessments students complete a specific task while teachers observe the process or procedure (e.g., data collection in an experiment) as well as the product (e.g., completed report). The tasks that students complete in performance assessments are not simple - in contrast to selected response items - and include the following:...(read more...)

Advantages and disadvantages


Advantages and disadvantages

Assessment that enhances motivation and student confidenceEdit

Studies on testing and learning conducted more than twenty years ago demonstrated that tests promote learning and that more frequent tests are more effective than less frequent tests. Frequent smaller tests encourage continuous effort rather than last minute cramming and may also reduce test anxiety because...(read more...)

Teachers’ beliefs and purposes
Choice of assessment task
Self and peer assessment
Adjusting instruction based on assessmentEdit
Using assessment information to adjust instruction is fundamental to the concept of assessment for learning... (read more...)
Communicating with parents and guardiansEdit
Clear communication with parents about classroom assessment is important – but often difficult for beginning teachers. The same skills that are needed to communicate effectively with students are also needed when communicating with parents and guardians...(read more...)
Action research: Studying yourself and your studentsEdit
Cycles of planning, acting and reflecting
Ethical issues—privacy, voluntary consent

(read more...)

Grading and ReportingEdit

Assigning students grades is an important component of teaching and many school districts issue progress reports, interim reports, or mid term grades as well as final semester grades. Traditionally these reports were printed on paper and sent home with students or mailed to students’ homes. Increasingly, school districts are using web-based grade management systems that allow parents to access their child’s grades on each individual assessment as well as the progress reports and final grades. Grading can be frustrating for teachers because...(read more...)

How are various assignments and assessment weighted?
How should grades be calculated?
What kinds of grade descriptions should be used?

Summary of Chapter 10: Teacher-made Assessment StrategiesEdit

The purpose of classroom assessment can be assessment for learning or assessment of learning. Essential steps of assessment for learning include communicating instructional goals clearly to students; selecting appropriate high quality assessments that match the instructional goals and students’ backgrounds; using assessments that enhance student motivation and confidence, adjusting instruction based on assessment, and communicating assessment results with parents and guardians. Action research, also discussed in Chapter 13, can help teachers understand and improve their teaching. A number of educational issues have to be balanced when devising grading systems.


  1. Teel, K. M., Debrin-Parecki, A., & Covington, M. V. (1998). Teaching strategies that honor and motivate inner-city African American students: A school/university collaboration. Teaching and Teacher Education, 14(5), 479-495.
  2. Linn, R. L., & Miller, M. D. (2005). Measurement and Assessment in Teaching 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  3. Airasian, P. W. (2004). Classroom Assessment: Concepts and Applications 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
  4. Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box.: Assessment for learning in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1) 9-21.
  5. Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment FOR learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 758-765.
Last modified on 16 June 2009, at 03:37