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From the Teacher's Desk: Let's Talk Testing

Many educators could say of assessments, “can’t live with them, can’t live without them,” but good assessment is incredibly valuable. Good assessment practices can accurately measure a student’s performance and give us an indicator of what a student knows at any given point in time. Teachers should rely on these good assessment practices to monitor and evaluate student performance in their classrooms at all levels.


LS girl smiling 


Standardized tests are designed to measure the knowledge and skills learned by students and then determine academic progress. Often these test scores are used to measure the “success” of the school, leading to drastic measures being taken for the sake of improvement. An example of this can be seen with some politically-motivated administrations choosing to “reconstitute” a school, meaning all staff are either released or reassigned. This may be one reason “assessment” has become a “bad” word in the educational community. 


Mount Paran Christian School takes a positive approach and values good assessment practices. MPCS uses standardized assessment tools such as the MAP exam to measure our overall progress along with how we can best utilize our strengths to match student needs. While assessments are given on a variety of different scales, the MAP exam is given at a national scale to measure both school and personal progress. The exam is normed, meaning both the school and students are measured against their peers.


Other normed assessments include Advanced Placement (AP) exams given to students around the world on a particular date and time. These normed tests are not possible at individual schools because thousands of students are needed to create the normed sample. These tools aid in identifying areas of growth as well as areas where there are opportunities to improve overall instruction.


HS girl at computer



We can also look at assessment within the individual classroom. Teachers will use the term “formative and summative assessments,” and it is important to understand the difference and how each is used within the classroom.


Formative assessments are individual assignments aimed at measuring a student’s understanding of a particular topic or standard taught. This might be in the form of an activity sheet, a map, or any type of project deemed to demonstrate overall understanding and comprehension from the student. Teachers should be using formative assessment data to gather information on student comprehension. If most students do not understand a concept as previously taught, the teacher will use that data to reteach the knowledge using a different style of pedagogy. This formative work prepares students for a summative assessment, which can also take a variety of forms in the individual classroom.


Summative assessments are an end-of-the-unit exam to measure multiple concepts in the curriculum Traditional summative assessments, such as multiple-choice exams and essay assessments, are an efficient way to measure student knowledge. Alternative types of summative assessments, such as project-based assessments or simulation-based assessments, can also be used to measure both knowledge and skills in the classroom. This may take shape in the classroom with students writing a play, producing a piece of music or art, or creating a project that demonstrates knowledge. Technology can also enhance projects, with students creating videos, including documentaries, related to content learned.

MS boy at computer



The field of education is moving toward scoring rather than grading these types of assessments. Scoring is an objective way to measure student performance against a scoring guide. National assessments such as AP exams use this type of scoring with any type of writing prompts, often referred to as a Free Response Question (FRQ).


Scoring guides are sometimes provided to the student in advance, allowing students to visualize and conceptualize how the writing prompts will be scored. Having advance access to the scoring guides ensures validity, reliability, and fairness in the exam scoring. This takes subjectivity out of the equation as the student will only earn two points for listing two reasons instead of writing three reasons for a phenomenon as the prompt required.


HS girl taking notes blue shirt


The University of South Florida uses the analogy of a scale to illustrate the difference between reliability and validity. A person steps on a scale in the morning and they weigh 150 pounds. If the individual still weighs 150 after five minutes with no eating, drinking, or other changes, the scale is deemed as reliable. However, what if the person actually weighs 140 pounds although the scale is reflecting a consistent 150? This would mean while the scale is reliable (consistent), it is not valid (correct). 


Assessments aim at being reliable, valid, and fair in their measurements. Reliability eliminates bias on an exam. Validity eliminates distortion. Fairness includes structuring the exam with students’ needs and demographics in mind.



Backward Design is the process of working through the summative assessment tied to the major standards a student needs to know, then adjusting the curriculum to better match the exam. This design process focuses on three components to the overall unit plan:


  1. Teachers select which results they will prioritize within the unit;

  2. Teachers refer to their formative assessments or classwork to indicate which students need additional work;

  3. Teachers structure their delivery of content to maximize learning related to the exam.


HS boy study


The goal at MPCS in the education of our students is to move assessment out of the “bad word” category and embrace it as a valuable tool for your child’s learning. The data gained through these assessments drives instructional decisions and practices to ensure student learning in the most effective and efficient environment possible.


Dr. Kelly Swanson serves as the Dean of Academics at Mount Paran Christian School. Dr. Swanson has served on numerous national and international boards for assessments. His PhD work focused on assessment and pedagogy using technology. He has published five books related to assessment, pedagogy, and geography.


To read more about academics at Mount Paran Christian School, click here.



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Providing academic excellence in a Christ-centered environment, Mount Paran Christian School unites with home and church to prepare servant-leaders to honor God, love others, and walk in Truth.