Assessment is an integrated process of gaining information about students' learning and making value judgments about their progress (Linn & Miller, 2005). Information about students' progress can be obtained from a variety of sources including projects, portfolios, performances, observations, and tests. The information about students' learning is often assigned specific numbers or grades and this involves measurement. Measurement answers the question, "How much?" and is used most commonly when the teacher scores a test or product and assigns numbers (e.g. 28 /30 on the biology test; 90/100 on the science project). Evaluation is the process of making judgments about the assessment information (Airasian, 2005). These judgments may be about individual students (e.g. should Jacob's course grade take into account his significant improvement over the grading period?), the assessment method used (e.g. is the multiple choice test a useful way to obtain information about problem solving), or one's own teaching (e.g. most of the students this year did much better on the essay assignment than last year so my new teaching methods seem effective).
The primary focus in this chapter is on assessment for learning, where the priority is designing and using assessment strategies to enhance student learning and development. Assessment for learning is often formative assessment, i.e. it takes place during the course of instruction by providing information that teachers can use to revise their teaching and students can use to improve their learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall & Wiliam, 2004). Formative assessment includes both informal assessment involving spontaneous unsystematic observations of students' behaviors (e.g. during a question and answer session or while the students are working on an assignment) and formal assessment involving pre-planned, systematic gathering of data. Assessment of learning is formal assessment that involves assessing students in order to certify their competence and fulfill accountability mandates and is the primary focus of the next chapter on standardized tests but is also considered in this chapter. Assessment of learning is typically summative, that is, administered after the instruction is completed (e.g. a final examination in an educational psychology course). Summative assessments provide information about how well students mastered the material, whether students are ready for the next unit, and what grades should be given (Airasian, 2005).