Assessments in education are intended to provide information regarding students' progress in the learning process. Identification of strengths and weaknesses assist educators in focusing on students' needs. Assessments are also used to identify specific areas where students may need additional support or servicing. These assessments might evaluate students for a developmental disability or special classes. The more information gathered regarding students' progress in learning, the more tailored lessons and special services can be to meet students' academic needs.
Formal and Informal Assessments
Formal assessments, such as statewide and district-wide testing, include evaluation tools used to measure students' knowledge and application of skills against a specific set of criteria. Informal assessments include evaluation tools to measure students performance and application of skills in order to plan instruction accordingly. The formal assessment uses results for comparisons against students' own past performance and comparisons to others in the same age group. The informal assessment uses specific criteria to evaluate students' progress toward meeting learning goals in order to guide instruction.
Informal Assessment Disadvantages
Informal assessments have disadvantages as well as advantages. The major advantage is that they assist in informing teachers of students' progress for proper instructional planning. The disadvantage is that using the information from informal assessments in today's classrooms has led to the current struggles some teachers face in differentiating lessons and adjusting to grouping students for specific instruction. Because of the need for additional planning and assessment time, many educators are unable to use informal assessments as they are intended to be used.
Increased Teacher Demands
Examples of informal assessments that teachers use for gathering data include student writing samples, student running records for oral reading and quarterly diagnostic reading assessments. Informal assessments also include group or individual projects, experiments, oral presentations and demonstrations. Class assignments, journals, essays and discussion groups are also informal ways to assess students. The requirements for keeping records, notes and other information on students' progress is necessary for teachers in order to fully utilize this valuable information for improving instruction and learning.
District and School Administration
The challenges in using informal assessments extend to administration. Teachers need to be provided with ongoing assistance in using data for guiding instruction. This includes managing time and using strategies for organizing and using data in planning. Currently, informal assessments are often no more than a time consuming process with little impact on improving student learning. Fortunately, state and district initiatives include improving the use of data to inform instruction, as they have observed this need through school and district evaluations of instructional programs and teacher performance.
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