Assess How?

Assessment Methods and Assessment Development

Assessment Methods

Once the purpose of the assessment and the content to be assessed have been determined, teachers decide on formats or methods of assessment. The most appropriate assessment method(s) and scoring guides to assess students' level of mastery are selected based on the curricular and instructional characteristics of the content and skills to be assessed. A variety of assessment methods can be used to elicit different types of student learning. The table below (Table 4) provides a brief description and examples of different types of assessment methods.

Table 4: Example Assessment Methods

  Selected Response Items Constructed Written Response Items Performance Assessment Personal Communication
Brief Description Items that require students to select from a list of possible responses. Items that require students to respond by constructing or generating an answer. Measure a student's mastery of a high-level skill (critical thinking or speaking fluently in French) through a complex authentic product or performance. Can be short term or long term projects Oral or other interpersonal communication between teacher and student
Examples Binary choice items (not just T/F), matching items, multiple choice items Short answer, essay (compare pieces of literature, analyze artwork, interpret scientific data, solve mathematical problem and explain solution, describe in detail an economics principle.) Extended written products (essays, lab reports), visual products ( murals), oral performances (oral reports, foreign language dialogues), demonstrations (skill performances in PE) senior exhibitions, science projects Oral assessment of a dysgraphic student, recitation of content, probing questions
Most Appropriate Use Assessing elements of knowledge and understanding of patterns of reasoning. Assessing understanding of relationships among elements of knowledge, descriptions of complex problem solutions, and written products Assessing problem solving, performance skills and product creation Assessing reasoning using follow up questioning and oral communication


In a balanced assessment system, students are involved in assessing, tracking, and setting goals for their learning. Students are provided with opportunities to reflect on their understanding both verbally and in writing through the use of reflective journals/logs and conversations with peers and teachers. Portfolios are used to aid in student self-assessment through student collection and communication about assessments. Authentic portfolios involve the student in collecting and evaluating ongoing work for the purpose of improving the skills needed to create such work. This process enables the student to become a reflective learner and involves students in metacognition which deepens their ability and desire to learn.

Teacher observations are used to inform and supplement all types of assessment. Informal and formal observations of student participation, interaction, and work inform instructional decisions.

Assessment Development

"None of the methods is inherently superior to any other, and all are viable if used well."
(Stiggins et al, 2004)

For all types of assessments, teachers work through planning, developing, critiquing, administering, and revising the assessment (Stiggins et al, 2005). Thus assessment development is an active and reflective process before, during, and after an assessment is given. Constructing quality assessments involves different skills for different types of assessments. For example selected response assessments require the ability to develop clear items with discriminating distracters, while performance assessments require the ability to develop meaningful tasks and a rubric with clear performance ciriterea (see Popham's Test Better Teach Better or Stiggins' Classroom Assessment For Learning for detailed examples of quality assessment). Teachers who construct high quality assessments avoid:

  1. unclear directions,
  2. ambiguous statements,
  3. unintentional clues,
  4. complex phrasing, and
  5. difficult vocabulary (Popham, 2003).

Differentiated Assessment: Responsiveness to the Learner

"To make valid references about learning, teachers need to allow students to work to their strengths."
(Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006)

While it is common practice to differentiate instruction, it is perhaps less common for teachers to consider how to differentiate assessment. Chapman and King (2005) propose that assessing students' dispositions is no less important than assessing their work. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) discuss the ways that assessment can be responsive to the learner:

  • Understanding our learners (assessing student dispositions)
  • Providing options to show student learning (assessing student work)

Understanding our learners (assessing student dispositions)

There are several theories of learning styles which suggest that people have different ways in which they learn best. A few of these theories include: Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, Anthony Gregorc's Mind Styles, and David Kolb's learning styles (see the links below for more information).

The utilization of a tool to assess multiple learning styles helps the teacher understand how the student learns and also how the student shows learning best. Most importantly, the student begins to understand how she learns and how she shows her learning most effectively. Sensitivity to student modalities is critical not only in the arena of assessment; but also, in designing instructional activities.

Providing options to show student learning (assessing student work)

Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) state that assessment becomes responsive when the students are given options to adequately show their knowledge, skill, and understanding. The caveat is that the options available must provide requisite evidence based on the identified learning goals.

Santa (1988) devised a writing strategy to help students demonstrate their understanding of information. This strategy, known as RAFT (role, audience, format, topic), provides students with an organizer that informs their understanding of purposeful writing and point of view.

Many teachers have devised systems that allow students to demonstrate their understanding by using a product menu. Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) use a Tic-Tac-Toe card that allows for individual choice that appeals to student strength and interest (see Table 5). Choice cards are a strategy that allow a student to submit a proposal for an alternative form of evidence.

Table 5: Tic-Tac-Toe Card for Student Choice

Written Visual Oral
Research report Poster Lesson Presentation
News Article Graphic Organizer Oral Presentation
Informational Brochure PowerPoint Radio Interview


Directions: Choose three boxes that form a tic-tac-toe now. Choose products that will help you demonstrate what you know and stretch your skills. Tic-Tac-Toe menus provide students options regarding how they will demonstrate mastery.