Frequently Asked Questions About Assessment
Why Do We Test?
Every teacher and parent has heard a student ask the question, "Why do we have tests?" This is the most fundamental question in educational assessment, and it has multiple answers. Assessment is used to:
- Measure student achievement
- Inform instructional decisions
- Evaluate the effectiveness of instructional practices and programs
- Monitor educational systems for public accountability
Given the different uses for assessment, it is critical that educators select the appropriate type of test. Before examining the various kinds of assessments and the information they provide, let's first consider the principles that guide assessment development and use.
Will Tests Improve the Quality of Education?
The purpose of testing is to deliver accurate and reliable information, not to drive educational reform. Some politicians and policy makers have suggested that new tests alone will create higher levels of educational achievement. What they are really looking for is better results. It is important for school administrators and policy makers to understand that a new assessment system cannot cure ailing education systems. Tests do not create better students; good teachers and good schools do! The problems facing our nation's schools are serious. There is no single cause, and therefore no simple cure for these problems. There are no shortcuts to improving student achievement and creating a world-class workforce. We continue our search for ways to improve student achievement, not rush into thinking that a new testing system will create better schools.
Why So Many Tests?
No single test can do it all. A diagnostic test to determine the emission level of an automobile engine will not tell you that the tires need air. A different procedure is needed to provide that information. The same goes for tests in education. No single test can ascertain whether all educational goals are being met. A variety of tests, or "multiple measures," is necessary to tell educators what students know and can do. And just as different tests provide different information, no one test can tell us all we need to know about one student's progress. This "multiple-measures approach" to assessment is the keystone to valid, reliable, fair information about student achievement. Any one type of test, whether norm-referenced, multiple-choice or performance assessment, is only one part of a balanced approach to assessment.
For example, some tests are designed to indicate whether a student needs additional work in specific subjects, while others measure overall group progress toward broadly stated goals. A multiple-measures approach means that states and local school districts often use different types of tests to assess students. Educators understand the real power and utility of creating testing programs that combine performance assessments, norm-referenced tests and other measures. This approach puts the right kind of assessment to work for the right purpose. Performance assessments, for example, might be used for instructional purposes, while norm-referenced tests are used to generate comparative information. Such data continue to be in great demand as the educational community seeks to build greater accountability measures into their educational systems.