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Test Often, Test Widely

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Assessment of students' knowledge and abilities is the teacher's absolutely best educational tool. It is so powerful because it is an inspiration to the teacher's creativity. When the teacher sees where students' educational needs lie, his or her mind begins to work on what to do about them. An analogy with a politician is in order: the politician who goes out to meet and talk with the people learns what the needs are and then thinks up strategies for meeting them; the politician who lacks the common touch, on the other hand, generates ideas that are often inappropriate. Similarly, the teacher who assesses students' knowledge and abilities begins to think out appropriate educational strategies, whereas, with the ivory tower teacher, there is often a mismatch between what is taught and what is appropriate for the students. When tests are administered in advance of teaching, the teacher sees where the needs lie, and the students realize that there is much to learn - the test results are an inspiration to student humility.

Assessment helps prevent the teacher from teaching over the heads of the students. When the teacher knows that a student is unsure about step 1, there is no point in going on to step 2. For example, if a student doesn't understand subject and predicate, there is no point in teaching sentence diagramming; if a student can't multiply or subtract, there is no point in teaching long division.

Many classroom tests come from textbooks. Math textbooks provide many tests, as do some basal reading series.

Some of the best assessments are the simplest. For example, a teacher's dictating a paragraph, where the students are required to write down what is dictated, is very simple but very effective. Finding a paragraph to dictate is no problem, and student shortcomings in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and handwriting are immediately apparent to the teacher.

In addition to assessing students' knowledge and attitudes before a study begins, many teachers assess students' interests as the study progresses. They recognize individual differences among students and make room in a study for students to go off on their own in some area. For example, in a study of Rome students might be asked to express interest in pursuing knowledge of Roman authors, Roman warriors, Roman law, Roman architecture, Roman cities, or Roman colonies, among other topics. Students would then go off on their own and come up with a true-false test or a short report on their topic to share with the class.

The content of most classroom assessment is specific to the curriculum of the grade or class being taught. For example, if a unit is to be taught on Rome, the teacher will make a list of the vocabulary words to be taught in the unit, geography concepts, famous Romans, wars, and so on, and will then test the students on their knowledge. The answers are usually open-ended: who was Tacitus? Who was Cicero? What is the name of the sea east of Italy? The results tell the teacher - and the students - what the students don't know; implied in the results are what the students need to know. Teacher and students are then ready to embark on the study.

There are knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are the responsibility of all teachers and all students, and the teacher will do well to assess this knowledge and these skills and attitudes. There was a time in American education when a high school social studies teacher, for example, would say that the teaching of punctuation and capitalization was the responsibility of the English teacher, not the social studies teacher. Similarly, all teachers K-6 take responsibility for students' being able to speak correctly, to write good English, to expand vocabulary, to observe good health habits, to be safe, to have good attitudes toward school, and to learn about current events. The day of sending a student back a grade to learn something is, for the most part, a thing of the past.

Therefore, in addition to teachers' assessing students' knowledge of specific grade level curriculum or subject matter, it comes within the purview of most teachers to assess students' English proficiency, understandings about health and safety, attitudes toward school, and knowledge of current events. Students come to see how much there is to learn and share in developing educational strategies.

Searching the Internet


A search in the Internet book store Amazon can yield interesting finds. For example, Quicktests Across the Curriculum are listed there.

http://www.amazon.com

A general search in Google or one of the other search engines can also yield results. For example, entering "tests of knowledge" or "quiz" along with the subject-matter area can yield many interesting tests.

The following are illustrative of tests available from the Internet:

Ohio Proficiency Tests "Take a test without logging in":

Ohio Practice Test

Sample tests from about.com:

Practice Tests

Elementary science practice test:

Elementary science practice test

Virginia Standard of Learning sample tests:

Virginia practice tests

A math problems generator is available at

Math problems generator