Assessments are essential because they show what the students know and can also help teachers adapt instruction along the way to better meet the needs of learners. Using a wide variety of assessments that accommodate all types of learners is most effective. Students can use their performance on tests to determine if they need additional instruction or tutoring. Testing methods include standardized or alternative and formative or summative.

Standardized Tests

Due to a 2001 federal mandate called the No Child Left Behind Act, almost all schools now require students to take state standardized tests in certain subject areas. These tests have the same questions for all students in a particular grade level and are administered in the same manner for all students across the state. States may use these tests to determine grade promotion, curriculum development, graduation and even salaries and bonuses for school employees.

Formative Assessments

The goal of a formative assessment is to gather feedback during instruction to determine if the teacher has been effective. Examples include brief quizzes or exit slips, where students write down what they learned before they leave class. Teachers may also use more informal methods, such as asking students to raise their hands if they understand a concept or having them use a whiteboard to hold up answers to oral questions. Formative assessments are useful because they allow teachers to quickly determine if the students have a understanding of the content or if they need to review material before moving on to the next topic.

Alternative Assessments

Alternative or authentic assessments require students to perform some type of task rather than answer multiple-choice questions. Examples include subjective questions, written essays, presentations, projects, evaluating peers and experiments. Teachers use a rubric to determine if the student's work demonstrates understanding of the content. Alternative assessments are useful because they are more engaging, requiring students to interact with the material instead of just choosing answers on a traditional paper and pencil exam.

Summative Assessments

Summative assessments measure a student's grasp of the content at the end of a chapter, unit or school year. They determine a student's understanding at a predetermined time after instruction is finished. Summative assessments are traditionally paper and pencil tests, such as comprehensive final exams or state standardized tests, but can be alternative assessments such as culminating essays or unit projects.