How Can Assessment Support Student Learning?

Most people have taken several forms of standardized testing in our lifetime, and never think anything of it. It is just something you do all the time because people are monitoring your progress. Linda Darling-Hammond, from Stanford University, says Americans are the most “overtested and underexamined in the world” (Comprehensive Assessment). What a crazy thing to think about. As a child, standardized testing was so normal, but as new research shows the vast types of intelligences and differences in learning, how can a teacher say a standardized test, written one way, to produce a four-answer possible solution, tests complete knowledge? The key to providing adequate assessment for students is recognizing the limits of standardized testing and increasing diverse tests and performance assessments that prepare children to think creatively.

Standardized assessments are severely limited in how they test students. Though attempts have been made to make them unbiased and account for diverse populations of students, a simple question with four answer choices does not accurately depict learning. Students are diverse thinkers, with several different intelligences and ways they learn. Standardized tests fail to account for children who have grown up through inadequately funded schools, or in low-income houses. Regardless of these findings, some educators and administrators believe standardized testing is the only way to teach kids.

Michelle Rhee was a DC Chancellor of the school system in Washington D.C. who saw this problem in the school system. Rhee was appointed by the Mayor of Washington D.C. to be a changemaker to turn around a school system with low ratings of achievement. She believed in standardized testing to not just test students in a classroom, but the teachers as well. She put their job on the line for their student’s achievement. She wanted to create a culture of accountability within the school system. She fired 22 teachers the first year after the students weren’t making big enough strides. At the end of the year, the schools with the biggest gains in academic achievement were given monetary incentives ranging from eight thousand to twelve thousand dollars. Though some of these scores went from 8%-42% gain in achievement, it was never investigated. The principal from one of the schools, Noyes High School, which previously had one of the highest gains in achievement before the principal left, saw test scores drop 40% after security measures were in place, showing that some teachers had changed test scores (Frontline).

One thing that was puzzling to me was that the administrators and teachers were rewarded for essentially doing their job. These monetary incentives not only left the door open for cheating, but also was a form of temporary compliance that Alfie Kohn talked about. Alfie Kohn is a critic of reward systems that create a “temporary compliance”. Creating a reward system implies that it isn’t something interesting, and is a form of manipulation (Kohn). He says that the reward of a situation is the learning. He argues this mostly in terms of students and receiving grades for their work, but I think it can also apply to the teachers in Washington D.C. Providing incentives for teachers to do their job, that is currently not increasing student’s achievement scores, further perpetuates the stigma that teaching these kids isn’t interesting.

The other thing that this left open, was teachers who were having trouble were being punished rather than supported. What the tests couldn’t show was that some of the teachers needed training and didn’t have the means of attaining it. One principal remarked that 30% of the teachers in his school needed improvement. Many of the teachers, one council member noted that she knows that almost 50% of the teachers believed that some students can’t learn at high levels (Frontline). Since No Child Let Behind was enacted in 2002, standardized tests have been mandated for all schools. The premise behind it is one of succeeding and providing a measure of college readiness. Since 2002, research in the way students learn has come farther, and laws have yet to be adjusted. This test, which is biased, failed to account in Washington D.C. for the students that had drug addiction and poverty in their own families. It also didn’t account for the teachers needing support and feeling unsuccessful in their classrooms.

One type of assessment that some teachers have utilized is performance assessments. Because standardized tests lack the ability to determine a child’s determination, drive, communication and leadership skills, performance-based projects have become more popular. These tests also solve many of the teaching feedback issues that come with assessments by providing immediate feedback on their students’ comprehension levels. Independent study projects have also been pushed forward as a way to encourage students to learn something personally interesting, while presenting it to teachers to be graded (Comprehensive Assessment). The issue with standardized tests is that they are “short-sighted” and don’t reveal the full picture of the student. One teacher in the Comprehensive Assessment video said,

“A lot of teachers and administrators in their understandable concern about these high-stakes tests are making a mistake when they say ‘Teach to the test. Teach to the test. That’s what we have to do.’ There is no evidence to show that you raise test scores by teaching worse. There is no evidence to show that when you teach for an in-depth robust performance where you have high-quality local assessment that your test scores suffer. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary. High quality local assessment is what we need to pay attention to.” (Comprehensive Assessment)

So the question is this: What assessments would you use as a teacher to help your students learn in their own unique way?



Comprehensive Assessment: An Overview. (2010, August 05). Retrieved November 10, 2016.

FRONTLINE. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from

G. (2013, September 05). Alfie Kohn on Oprah. Retrieved November 11, 2016, from