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Assessment can sometimes feel like that socially awkward faculty member everyone tries to avoid talking to during a staff luncheon. It’s sometimes thorny, can often lead to intense debates –both with colleagues and students, and mentally draining to do effectively. However, assessment is one of the most important aspects of teaching. Assessment allows you to flex your teacher muscles, so to speak. They allow you to show-off your abilities as an educator. The assessments you use in your classroom are just as reflective of your teaching methods as they are your students’ ability to learn from them. You’ve been there… taking a test that has ambiguous or confusing questions, or even a multiple choice question with multiple correct options; despite the directions stating you are to choose only one. Assessments that leave students guessing how they should proceed, leave students second-guessing your teaching abilities.
What makes an Assessment Effective?
There are two types of assessments; what you would call “standard testing” and quite literally everything else. That “everything else” can also be referred to as alternative assessments. What is an alternative assessment? Simply… an alternative assessment is any form of assessment other than your typical black and white, multiple-choice, paper and pen exams.
Oral reports? –alternative assessment.
Research papers? –alternative assessment.
It is within this category of alternative assessment that we oftentimes find the most effective assessments.
Alternative assessments allow you to be more effective for a multitude of reasons. Namely, that they allow for real-life applications. For example, in an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) course for survival English skills for newly arrived migrant workers, you as an educator might be responsible for teaching them about the public transportation options available to them. In place of a multiple choice quiz over their possible bus routes, an alternative assessment could be a simple in-class group project. Students could use the internet to investigate possible public transportation modes available to them. Then, using Google maps and the website for their preferred public transportation, students could identify the bus stops located nearest to their home, work, school, etc., and highlight the bus route(s) that would take them to the places they might need to go: grocery store, hospital, shopping malls, etc.
Whether standard testing or alternative assessments are being used, all effective assessments share three criteria. They are practical, they are reliable, and they are valid.
The practicality of an assessment is maybe one of the easiest, yet most frustrating criteria. All of the administrative restrictions of your classroom come into play here. How long will students have to complete the assessment? What materials does the assessment require? Do I have access to all of these materials? How long will it take to grade and provide constructive feedback for this assessment? Can all of this be done in time to return the grades/feedback before beginning the next unit? The list of the questions can seem infinite, however they must be considered when creating effective assessments. For example, that bus routes assessment outlined earlier seems easy enough. It gets students talking, would be relatively simple to grade given that you’d be examining highlight print-outs of Google map images, and has a directly relevant use to the student. However, what if your classroom does not have an Internet connection? Or, what if students do not have smart phones and cannot access any of the materials required? Obviously, these obstacles would make this assessment wholly ineffective.
Effective assessments are also reliable; meaning that they should be consistent and dependable. Giving your specific assessment to any student of a similar proficiency level and background knowledge should yield you roughly the same scores. In order to be reliable, an assessment must have clear instructions, is not ambiguous or confusing in anyway, and a uniform method of evaluation.
The last point of uniform evaluation is quite important for effective assessments. Your assessment should be designed with inter-rater reliability in mind. Inter-rater reliability simply means that two people grading the same assessment should reach roughly the same score. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through the use of rubrics.
There are two types of assessment validity. The first is content validity. For an assessment to be effective it must directly assess the content. For example, you would not give an assessment on irregular verb conjugations when you’ve only covered personal pronouns in-class. Correctly assessing the relevant content will give your assessment content validity.
The second is curriculum validity. This type of validity includes the bigger picture. Why are you assessing this specific content? Does this assessment connect to the overall goals or intentions of the course/program? Keeping the answers to these questions in mind during the formation of your assessment will give your assessment curriculum validity.
Task/Performance Based Assessments
Now that you are familiar with the three basic criteria for effective assessment, it is time to discuss the use of task or performance based assessments. This is next level assessment. You’re getting students to not only show you that they have learned to content, but also that they can apply it. This can be achieved using those old traditional standard assessment methods as well. For example, you’ve taught a unit on context clues and how to use them to help define unfamiliar words in a reading. In place of asking students to define the term “context clues,” ask them to apply that skill. Give your students a new reading with unfamiliar words. Select a few words from the reading and ask them to define them using only the information from the reading –no dictionaries! Then ask them to highlight or underline the context clues from the reading that allowed them to define the word in that way.
Assessments should be practical, reliable, and valid measurements of learner knowledge/participation. Classroom assessment methods should be task/performance based to whatever degree is practical and should always be uniformly evaluated… preferably through the use of rubrics. Following these criteria and suggestions for assessment creation should allow you to effectively evaluation student learning and showcase your ability to elicit the desired responses from your students.