Publications & Resources

The Role of Classroom Assessment in Teaching and Learning

Feb 2000

Lorrie A. Shepard

Historically, because of their technical requirements, educational tests of any importance were seen as the province of statisticians and not that of teachers or subject matter specialists. Researchers conceptualizing effective teaching did not assign a significant role to assessment as part of the learning process. The past three volumes of the Handbook of Research on Teaching, for example, did not include a chapter on classroom assessment nor even its traditional counterpart, tests and measurement. Achievement tests were addressed in previous handbooks but only as outcome measures in studies of teaching behaviors. In traditional educational measurement courses, preservice teachers learned about domain specifications, item formats, and methods for estimating reliability and validity. Few connections were made in subject matter methods courses to suggest ways that testing might be used instructionally. Subsequent surveys of teaching practice showed that teachers had little use for statistical procedures and mostly devised end-of-unit tests aimed at measuring declarative knowledge of terms, facts, rules, and principles (Fleming & Chambers, 1983).

The purpose of this chapter is to develop a framework for understanding a reformed view of assessment, where assessment plays an integral role in teaching and learning. If assessment is to be used in classrooms to help students learn, it must be transformed in two fundamental ways. First, the content and character of assessments must be significantly improved. Second, the gathering and use of assessment information and insights must become a part of the ongoing learning process. The model I propose is consistent with current assessment reforms being advanced across many disciplines (e.g., International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English Joint Task Force on Assessment, 1994; National Council for the Social Studies, 1991; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1995; National Research Council, 1996). It is also consistent with the general argument that assessment content and formats should more directly embody thinking and reasoning abilities that are the ultimate goals of learning (Frederiksen & Collins, 1989; Resnick & Resnick, 1992). Unlike much of the discussion, however, my emphasis is not on external accountability assessments as indirect mechanisms for reforming instructional practice; instead, I consider directly how classroom assessment practices should be transformed to illuminate and enhance the learning process. I acknowledge, though, that for changes to occur at the classroom level, they must be supported and not impeded by external assessments.

Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of classroom assessment in teaching and learning (CSE Report 517). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).