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New book touts benefits of modern classroom assessments

Fri, 09/13/2013

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor has written a book on how assessment takes place in the modern classroom. Modern assessment not only shows what students have learned; it helps increase their achievement. It also helps teachers gauge progress and share that information with parents, administrators and others.

“To some assessment means standardized tests or No Child Left Behind-type measures,” said Bruce Frey, associate professor of psychology and research in education. “Really what I mean by classroom assessment are the assessments that teachers make themselves every day. A few years ago that would have meant the multiple choice test, but now it’s so much more than that.”

Frey’s new book, “Modern Classroom Assessment,” is a guide to contemporary approaches and philosophies of teacher-designed assessment and provides hundreds of practical examples of how educators can put it to use in their own classes. The idea of frequent teacher- and student-designed assessment has grown in acceptance over the past 10 to 15 years, Frey said. His research focuses largely on the best ways to implement the practice. Formative assessment, or the idea that education is measured on a continual basis throughout a class’ progression, is one of the key ideas covered in the book.

“The hypothesis that formative assessment will improve education is pretty well-established. The research is now focusing largely on the best way to design effective formative assessment,” Frey said.

Teachers can implement formative assessment without even being directly involved. By allowing students to evaluate and control their own learning, they can learn to continually assess their own comprehension, finding their strengths and evaluating what they have or haven’t learned. The practice can take place in the form of traditional quizzes, students working with each other, writing down topics that they do or don’t understand well at the end of a class period, or a number of other ways, Frey said.

The practice relates closely to authentic assessment, another of the book’s key topics. Through similar measures, authentic assessment helps students learn to self-assess and improve, a skill that will serve well in the future, especially when students enter the workforce, Frey said. The practice can also help teachers more fully understand what students have learned.

“If we want to realistically see the level of knowledge and ability a student has, a traditional, multiple choice test might not be the best way to do that,” Frey said. “Perhaps asking them to perform a task can provide a more accurate look.”

The call to use more modern assessment methods is not at the expense of traditional measures. The book covers the value of using paper and pencil and performance-based assessments and combining the evidence they yield with formative and authentic assessments. Together the measures can provide information that can be used for grades, for evaluating student progress, providing information on student learning to administrators and parents and helping the students themselves see their own progress while learning.

“It used to be that assessment served only one purpose, assigning a grade, but there are many purposes for assessment now and so many more roles for it in the classroom,” Frey said.

The text also explores universal design, intended to develop classroom practices that are equally useful for all students, regardless of their individual characteristics.

The book will help young teachers implement modern assessment methods in their classroom, but Frey said writing it has also helped him in his role as an educator.

“If a teacher is doing this well, what does it look like?” Frey asked. “That question is interesting to me because the more we know about it, the more teachers can use it, and I can use it to help prepare teachers to put it to work in their classrooms.”



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