Assessment in the Classroom: Not all are Created Equal

In late April, several testing professionals released a documentary titled Testing in the Movies and on Television. The film used over 300 clips from the movies and television that centered on testing consequences, criticisms of testing, test anxiety, studying and test prep, and cheating with the goal of generating a healthy discussion on the appropriateness of testing.  In short, Testing in the Movies and on Television documents America’s fixation on high stakes testing – mostly in a negative light.

While an enjoyable stroll through many memorable movies and TV shows, what’s missing in the general media treatment of testing is recognition that student tests have many purposes, some of them highly valuable for teaching and learning. Grunwald Study ChartA 2012 study by Grunwald Associates identified a strong desire among parents and teachers for timely student assessment information that helps them follow student progress and identify instructional needs.

That desire doesn’t seem to be accompanied by an understanding of what assessments can serve that purpose, however, as the current anti-assessment movement has thrown all large-scale assessments into the summative bucket, with all the resentment and anxiety that goes with that designation.

Not all testing is (or should) be created equal, so treating them as such unfairly signals negative connotation. There certainly is such a thing as too much assessment in the classroom, but it’s also fair to say there can be too little.

Additionally, the situation is exacerbated by policy-makers and education leaders who mandate use of assessment in the classroom for purposes not consistent with their design. Understanding what assessments are available and what uses they have for classroom measurement, and educating students and parents, can go a long way toward alleviating the inherent fears that testing (at least in movies and television) has created.