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Assessment Definitions

Useful Assessment Terms

Assessment The Latin rood assidere means to sit beside. In an educational context, it is the process of observing learning. Assessment is an integral part of the teaching process; an essential tool for evaluating the effectiveness of changes made or needed in the teaching-learning process.
Authentic Assessment Evaluating by asking for the behavior the learning is intended to produce. The concept of model, practice, feedback in which students know what excellent performance is and are guided to practice an entire concept rather than bits and pieces in preparation for eventual understanding. A variety of techniques can be employed in authentic assessment.

Authentic tests can be viewed as ideally mirroring and measuring student performance in a "real-world" context. Tasks used in authentic assessment are meaningful and valuable, and are part of the learning process.

Authentic assessment can take place at any point in the learning process. Patterns of success and failure are observed as learners use knowledge and skills in slightly ambiguous situations that allow the assessor to observe the student applying knowledge and skills in new situations over time. (For a discussion and an example see the video).
Criterion Referenced Tests A test in which the results can be used to determine a student's progress toward mastery of a content area. Performance is compared to an expected level of mastery in a content area rather than to other students' scores. Such tests usually include questions based on what the student was taught and are designed to measure the student's mastery of designated objectives of an instructional program. The "criterion" is the standard of performance established as the passing score for the test. Scores have meaning in terms of what the student knows or can do, rather than how the test-taker compares to a reference or norm group.
Curriculum Alignment The degree to which a curriculum's scope and sequence matches the intended outcomes of that curriculum.
Embedded Assessment Assessment that occurs simultaneously with learning such as projects, portfolios and "exhibitions." Occurs in the classroom setting. Tasks or tests are developed from the curriculum or instructional materials.
Evaluation Both qualitative and quantitative descriptions of student behavior plus value judgments concerning the desirability of that behavior. Using collected information (assessments) to make informed decisions about continued instruction, programs, activities.
Formative Assessment Observations which allow one to determine the degree to which students know or are able to do a given learning task, and which identifies the part of the task that the student does not know or is unable to do. Outcomes suggest future steps for teaching and learning. (See Summative Assessment.)
Holistic Method In assessment, assigning a single score based on an overall assessment of performance rather than by scoring or analyzing dimensions separately. The product is considered to be more than the sum of its parts and so the quality of a final product or performance is evaluated rather than the process or specific dimension of performance. A holistic scoring rubric might combine a number of elements on a single scale.
Mean One of several ways of representing a group with a single, typical score. It is figured by adding up all the individual scores in a group and dividing them by the number of people in the group. Can be affected by extremely low or high scores. 
Median The point on a scale that divides a group into two equal subgroups. Another way to represent a group's scores with a single, typical score. The median is not affected by low or high scores as is the mean.
Multidimensional Assessment Assessment that gathers information about a broad spectrum of abilities and skills (as in Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Norm Referenced Tests A test in which a student or a group's performance is compared to that of a norm group. The student or group scores will not fall evenly on either side of the median established by the original test takers. The results are relative to the performance of an external group and are designed to be compared with the norm group providing a performance standard. Often used to measure and compare students, schools, districts, and states on the basis of norm-established scales of achievement.
Outcome An operationally defined educational goal, usually a culminating activity, product, or performance that can be measured.
Performance-Based Assessment Direct, systematic observation and rating of student performance of an educational objective, often an ongoing observation over a period of time, and typically involving the creation of products. The assessment should be a real-world performance with relevance to the student and learning community. Assessment of the performance is done using a rubric, or analytic scoring guide to aid in objectivity. Performance-based assessment is a test of the ability to apply knowledge in a real-life setting. Evaluation of the product of a learning experience can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching methods.
Performance Criteria The standards by which student performance is evaluated. Performance criteria help assessors maintain objectivity and provide students with important information about expectations, giving them a target or goal to strive for.
Portfolio A systematic and organized collection of a student's work that exhibits to others the direct evidence of a student's efforts, achievements, and progress over a period of time. The collection should involve the student in selection of its contents, and should include information about the performance criteria, the rubric or criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection or evaluation. It should include representative work, providing a documentation of the learner's performance and a basis for evaluation of the student's progress. Portfolios may include a variety of demonstrations of learning and have been gathered in the form of a physical collection of materials, videos, CD-ROMs, reflective journals, etc. 
Rating Scale A scale based on descriptive words or phrases that indicate performance levels. Qualities of a performance are described (e.g., advanced, intermediate, novice) in order to designate a level of achievement. The scale may be used with rubrics or descriptions of each level of performance.
Reliability The measure of consistency for an assessment instrument. The instrument should yield similar results over time with similar populations in similar circumstances.
In general a rubric is a scoring guide used in assessments. A rubric can be an explicit description of performance characteristics corresponding to a point on a rating scale. A scoring rubric makes explicit expected qualities of performance on a rating scale.
A way to obtain information about a large group by examining a smaller, randomly chosen selection (the sample) of group members. If the sampling is conducted correctly, the results will be representative of the group as a whole.
Scoring Criteria
Rules for assigning a score or the dimensions of proficiency in performance used to describe a student's response to a task. May include rating scales, checklists, answer keys, and other scoring tools.
Scoring A package of guidelines intended for people scoring performance assessments. May include instructions for raters, notes on training raters, rating scales, samples of student work exemplifying various levels of performance.
A process in which a student engages in a systematic review of a performance, usually for the purpose of improving future performance. May involve comparison with a standard, established criteria. May involve critiquing one's own work or may be a simple description of the performance. Reflection, self-evaluation, metacognition, are related terms. 
Summative Assessment
Evaluation at the conclusion of a unit or units of instruction or an activity or plan to determine or judge student skills and knowledge or effectiveness of a plan or activity. Outcomes are the culmination of a teaching/learning process for a unit, subject, or year's study. (See Formative Assessment.)
Validity The test measures the desired performance and appropriate inferences can be drawn from the results. The assessment accurately reflects the learning it was designed to measure.