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Classroom assessment: learning from students.


The Standards for Teacher Competence in the Educational Assessment of Students (National Council on Measurement in Education, 1990) requires that teacher candidates achieve assessment competency before entering the profession. This requirement challenges teacher educators to provide meaningful, research-based instruction in assessment. This article presents the efforts of one teacher educator to chart a new course in classroom assessment, and more importantly, what she learned from students about redesigning the course.


The Standards for Teacher Competence in the Educational Assessment of Students (National Council on Measurement in Education, 1990) requires that teacher candidates achieve assessment competency before entering the profession. This requirement challenges teacher educators to provide meaningful, research-based instruction in assessment. Faced with the responsibility of teaching a course in classroom assessment for the first time, I chose to use student-learning logs as one tool. My purpose in choosing learning logs was threefold: I wanted the students to be able to articulate in their own words what they were learning (Carr, 2002), to monitor their progress throughout the course (Commander and Smith, 1996), and increasingly to see themselves as responsible, engaged, and self-directed learners (Brockett and Hiemstra, 1991). While I cannot quantifiably measure the benefits of the learning log experience for the students, I gained valuable insights for the redesign of the course. This article briefly outlines my efforts to chart a new course in assessment for preservice teachers, and more significantly for me, it describes what I learned from student-learning logs after teaching the class.

Educators use learning logs in all disciplines and with diverse populations for a variety of purposes (Olson, Deming, and Valeri-Gold, 1994). Journaling, in its varied forms, is a beneficial way for students to record personal thoughts and to reflect on experiences and growing insights (Hiemstra, 2001). It is a learning process akin to thinking (Niles, 1985; Walker, 1988). Calkins (1986) stated, "No matter what the subject area is, learning logs provide a forum and an occasion for learning" (p. 264). Teacher educators employ journaling to foster personal development in the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required by the profession. Various research studies point to its effectiveness in teacher preparation. For example, it is seen as an effective tool in preparing preservice educators to become reflective practitioners (Valli, 1997; Yost, Sentner, and Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). It facilitates the learning of new practices (Lieberman and Miller, 1999) and makes the new knowledge personal (Roe and Stallman, 1994). It prepares preservice teachers to solve hypothetical classroom problems (Hoover, 1994).

The Challenge of Classroom Assessment

While classroom assessment has been a concern of the educational measurement community for over 50 years (Stiggins, 2001a), the more recent standards movement has brought renewed attention to classroom assessment instruction in teacher preparation programs. Preparing preservice teachers to meet today's professional teaching standards is a daunting task. These standards have both expanded the curriculum to be addressed in teacher preparation programs and raised the level of acceptable performance for teacher graduates. The challenge becomes particularly formidable when a new standard represents a radical shift from a time-honored practice such as testing. Assessment is the new standard, put forth by professional and state agencies that ask all teacher graduates to "understand and use formal and informal assessment strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the learner." (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, 1992). Classroom assessment is intended primarily to enable the teacher to make sound decisions throughout the instructional process leading to greater student achievement. (Popham, 2002). A teacher assesses students' readiness before beginning instruction, monitors their progress throughout the learning event, and evaluates student performance at the conclusion of a unit of study. Beyond paper-and-pencil tests, assessment acknowledges as valuable the information about students' learning that teachers gain through informal observation. Some authors suggest that students engage in the assessment process because it increases their motivation to learn and promotes higher achievement as well as fostering habits of self-directed learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Chappuis and Stiggins, 2002; Johnson and Johnson, 2002; Stiggins, 2001b).

Creating a Course

Professional associations and state agencies have drafted documents designed to improve teacher assessment competency, e.g., The Standards for Teacher Competence in the Educational Assessment of Students (1990). Using these standards as a guide, I distilled the following course objectives that I considered achievable for myself and for the teacher candidates:

1. Create classroom assessments appropriate for your discipline.

2. Create lesson plans based on prior assessment.

3. Interpret standardized test scores.

4. Begin to articulate a philosophy of what constitutes fair assessment.

Teaching the Course

At the first class meeting, I outlined the scope, objectives, and major learning activities of the class. One of the activities would be regular writing about the concepts and ideas of classroom assessment. I explained to the students that I hoped the learning logs would help them learn new material, make it their own, and thus become more aware of what they were learning and still needed to learn. After explaining the learning log concept and procedure, I asked the students to begin their logs by listing their goals for the course on page one: What did they expect from this course? What did they want to learn? Here are some of their responses:
 "I want to learn how assessment benefits students. Other ways to
 assess students without using grades, letters, and tests." "To
 learn to create many different assessment tools that I can use in
 my future classroom to enhance my teaching." "Learn how to assess
 students well and new ways to monitor students' progress."

In each ensuing class, I asked the 18 students to write for 10 minutes at the beginning of each class, twice a week, about their understanding of the various topics as we traversed the course together. Their log entries were to address three basic questions: What have you learned? What questions do you have? What more do you want to learn? My initial intention was that these logs would be private. Students would have the opportunity to write for themselves about what they were learning free of outside evaluation. At the same time, I was hoping they would grow in their sense of ownership over what they were or were not learning. Mid-way through the semester, I suspected that the learning log was losing its effectiveness. Students finished their log writing more quickly and most were writing less. At that juncture, I began to ask them from time to time to share their writing with other members of their small group. Throughout the rest of the semester the learning logs continued to play the same semi-private role: a tool to help students monitor their growing knowledge. Regrettably, it was only at the end of the semester that I asked the students to share their logs with me. I was pleasantly surprised that all did so.

Learning Logs

From the learning logs, I culled several key notions to guide a redesign of the course.

* Classroom assessment is a theoretical subject that is best presented in concrete examples.

* The complexity of classroom assessment requires constant reiteration of its core concepts.

* Because students don't ask questions about content, the teacher must continually monitor students' understanding.

* When students apply assessment concepts to real world situations, learning becomes more meaningful.

Begin with Vocabulary

First, the most important notion I gleaned from the students' learning logs is that classroom assessment is a new concept, replete with unfamiliar terminology. Student learning logs supported this conclusion:
 "The test on the characteristics of assessment was difficult for me.
 I found all of the terms and meanings to be very confusing ...
 because they are all very similar and very close in meaning. "I
 understand that backward design is instruction based around
 assessment, but there are so many finer points.... The article on
 backward design reads like VCR instructions and I could only get a
 basic idea of what it was about--complex." "Last night I had to read
 chapter 8 for the class. It was about performance assessment. There
 were concepts that I had never heard before such as evaluative
 criteria, teachability, or generalizability. This chapter left me
 knowing that I have a lot of work to do in my quest to understand

Just as second-language teaching begins with vocabulary, classroom assessment is equally foreign and requires an emphasis on terminology in order to give students access to the concepts these words inform. In addition, if I want next year's students to learn more effectively, I will have to relate new concepts and terminology to terms and experiences with which they are familiar. One example is the use of rubrics. In traditional testing, teachers provide students with review questions or oral sessions before a final evaluation. In classroom assessment, teachers give students a detailed, written rubric that describes the desired content, characteristics, and quality of the final product to be evaluated.

Reiterate Core Concepts

Second, I learned that in teaching classroom assessment it is necessary that one continually repeat the overarching, core concepts such as reliability and validity (Whittington, 1999; Popham, 2002). In retrospect, I was not surprised that one student wrote:
 I really am confused with the concepts of reliability and validity.
 I did the readings and it really started to confuse me. Reliability
 and validity concepts seem very similar to me. I am hoping the
 lecture will clear this up. I know I need to understand it because
 it is a central point of assessment.

In presenting these two concepts initially, the frowns and empty stares told me that it would be some time before the entire class could articulate these concepts meaningfully. From their logs, I conclude that continual repetition, while it retards the pace at which a teacher delivers content, will increase the likelihood of deeper retention. Such repetition, while perhaps boring for some, is necessary if all students are to understand these basic concepts.

Monitor Students' Understanding

Third, I learned from the students, as though for the first time, that they do not ask questions in class about the subject matter they do not understand, but their logs revealed multiple questions. Some of their questions are the following.
 "Does a good assessor become one by practice or by studying or
 both?" "We have learned ways of assessment and examples of each,
 but I want to go into more depth on the effectiveness of each
 type." "I want to learn more about when to use the different
 levels of Bloom's taxonomy." "I know that tests measure what
 students know about a topic, but I want to know how to use test
 results to improve my teaching in the future."

In retrospect, I am aware that while I extolled the importance of formative assessment, I was not modeling it sufficiently in actual practice. I now see the need to provide students with more systematic formative assessment in order to monitor their progress. (Nitko, 2001; Oosterhof, 2001). I also must find a way to gain trusting access to the students' learning logs. As Brookfield notes (1991), learning logs help teachers teach responsively. A student's private journaling reveals an understanding that may not be anticipated by the teacher.

Integrate Real World Experiences

Fourth, student logs showed me clearly that they were making connections to real world application. One student in particular reported in her log that while on a family trip over spring break, she found herself assessing her traveling time by creating a time chart and correlating the quality of service in a restaurant to the amount of a tip given a server. Another student reported that she had prepared to teach her peers in a Spanish class using backward design as a model: "I know what I want them to learn from my lesson and I know the manner in which I will assess them." One student critiqued a theology teacher because she judged that he had created a test after teaching the material: "This was an error the professor made, since according to backward design, a teacher should know what is going to be assessed of the students so that lessons plans can be made off that." Another student wrote, "My history teacher, for example, gives us tests but the directions are very unclear."

The 20-hour field experience component of the class afforded students the opportunity to talk with practicing teachers about assessment, confirming, expanding, and challenging their growing knowledge. Here are some student comments:
 "While the class provided information and vocabulary about
 assessment, seeing how another teacher uses assessment and its
 benefits provided good examples for me and made me think about how
 I will use assessment in my own classroom." "My cooperating teacher
 and I talked about how she uses assessment to help students
 individually." "All of the five teachers that I observed had
 different ways of assessing the students, .. and I learned
 something from each of them." "Our discussions ranged from
 standardized tests to parent teacher meetings, from portfolios
 to lesson plans. I disagreed with many of the things he said, and
 vice versa, but our conversations were always for the benefit of
 true debate." "As an observer in a real classroom, I realize how
 much work assessment really is. With having to choose from so many
 different forms of assessment, I realize that it is going to be a
 lot of work assessing my students in proper ways.... I want to
 become a teacher that affirms students through assessment,
 testing, and teaching because assessing students can help them
 or destroy them."

This last comment articulates clearly what others are merely hinting.

A Teacher Learns From Students

In teaching a course in classroom assessment for the first time, I did not realize how extremely difficult it would be for me and for the students. Together, we had good days and bad days. I struggled, and I know they struggled, as one student described in an early log entry:
 I'm confused about what kind of assessment is better: formal or
 informal. In class, it seems we are discussing more of the
 informal type and [we] are being encouraged to accept it. However,
 the text leans more towards formal [assessment]. I'd like to know
 more about what is considered to be better.

Were it not for the students' learning logs, I would have been fooled, thinking that I had completed the course reasonably well. Their logs told me otherwise, giving me direction on how I might improve the course for next year's students. As happens so frequently, a teacher learns invaluable lessons from students. This is just the first revision of classroom assessment. I know that I will be making adjustments as I continue to learn from students.


Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80 (2), 139-148.

Brookfield, S.D. (1991). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brockett, R.G. & Hiemstra, R. (1991). Self-Direction in adult learning: Perspectives on theory, research, and practice. New York: Routledge.

Calkins, L.M. (1986). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Carr, S. (2002). Assessing learning processes: Useful information for teachers and students. Intervention in School and Clinic, 37 (3), 156-162.

Chappuis, S. & Stiggins, R.J. (2002). Classroom assessment for learning. Educational leadership, 60 (1), 40-43.

Commander, N.E. & Smith, B.D. (1996). Learning logs: A tool for cognitive monitoring. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 39 (6), 446-453.

Hiemstra, R. (2001). Uses and benefits of journal writing. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. 90, 19-26.

Hoover, L.A. (1994). Reflective writing as a window on preservice teachers' thought processes. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10, 83-93.

Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium. (1992). Model standards for beginning teacher licensing and development: A resource for state dialog. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R.T. (2002). Meaningful assessment: A manageable and cooperative process. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (1999). Teachers transforming their world and their work. New York: Teachers College Press.

National Council on Measurement in Education. The Standards for Teacher Competence in the Educational Assessment of Students. (1990). Washington, D.C.

Nitko, A.J. (2001). Educational assessment of students (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Niles, A. (1985). Journals are worth the time. Virginia English Bulletin, 35, 60-64.

Olson, J.R., Deming, M.P. & Valeri-Gold (1994). Dialogue journals: Barometers for assessing growth in developmental learners. Journal of Developmental Education, 18, 26-32.

Oosterhof, A. (2001). Classroom applications of educational measurement (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Popham, J. (2002). Classroom assessment: What teachers need to know. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Roe, M. F. & Stallman, A.C. (1994). A comparative study of dialogue and response journals. Teaching and Teacher Education, 10, 579-588.

Stiggins, R.J. (2001a). The unfulfilled promise of classroom assessment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 20 (3), 5-14.

Stiggins, R.J. (2001b). Student-involved classroom assessment. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Valli, L. (1997). Listening to other voices: A description of teacher reflection in the United States. Peabody Journal of Education, 72 (1), 67-88.

Walker, A. (1988). Writing-across-the-curriculum: The second decade. English Quarterly, 21, 93-103.

Whittington, D. (1999). Making room for values and fairness: Teaching reliability and validity in the classroom context. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice.18 (1), 14-22, 27.

Yost, D.S., Sentner, S.M., & Forlenza-Bailey, A. (2000). An examination of the construct of critical reflection: Implications for teacher education programming in the 21st century. Journal of Teacher Education, 51 (1), 39-49.

Mary E. Kremer, Ph.D., Dominican University, CA

Sr. Mary Kremer, O.P. Ph.D., is an assistant professor of education preparing teacher candidates for secondary certification. Her research interests include multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and religious education.
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Author:Kremer, Mary E.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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