Toward New Forms of Educational Assessment

New Forms of Assessment

For some time, I have been advocating for new forms of assessment that are more informative. The current testing that goes on in schools when it is standardized, i.e., the same questions are offered to each student, gives us a snapshot comparison of the student ability to answer those questions. The current view of standardized testing suits those who wish to compare students on standardized forms. These comparisons are reported across classrooms, schools, districts and states. With many years of refinement, the outcome of standardized testing is to provide a very narrow set of outcomes, or snapshots, with which to analyze student learning. If one looks at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we can see the breadth of their assessment collection and the length of their time period in collecting trend data on student assessment:

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representativ​e and c​ontinuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Paper-and-pencil assessments are conducted periodically in mathematicsreadingsciencewritingthe artscivics, economicsgeographyU.S. history, and in Technology and Engineering Literacy​ (TEL). Beginning in 2017, NAEP will begin administering ​digitally based assessments (D​​BA) for mathematics, reading, and writing, with additional subjects added in 2018 and 2019.


Trend in NAEP reading average scores for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students

Trend in NAEP reading average scores for 9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students< - see complete data links below for full data in table format.

New Forms of Assessment

If we were left with just this assessment, the conclusion would be that student reading achievement has not made much progress since 1971. But I think we have made lots of progress in reading that this does not capture. Perhaps the standardized assessments really capture the processing speed, the general IQ, or something else but it is not as informative of reading achievement as it could be, e.g., student learning about reading skills, student progress on reading skills sets, and student engagement in reading skill sets.  This represents a lot of work for not very much usefulness in measuring student achievement in reading through standardized assessments. SO, in the spirit of offering other ideas for more informative assessments, and this example does not use these informative assessment ideas for reading, I detail an example of a more holistic assessment invented by the PEAR group’s assessment approach below. The offering below is not intended to promote one idea, but to offer one idea to help widen the conversation we have about what makes sense when assessing student learning. How can we get more informative results from the assessments we give? Could we use a variety of assessments that would better inform the accountability conversation? Could and should schools be held accountable for just one type of assessment of student learning? The Holistic Student Assessment is introduced below along with a snapshot of how they report their results:

The Holistic Student Assessment

The Holistic Student Assessment (HSA) is a tool developed by PEAR to help schools tailor services to better support the social and emotional well-being of students in school and afterschool settings. The HSA provides adolescents with an opportunity to self-report about specific behaviors, beliefs and relationships. The 86-question instrument is based on PEAR’s Clover Model, which describes child and adolescent development as a holistic interaction between four core developmental needs: Active Engagement (engaging the world physically), Assertiveness (expressing voice and choice), Belonging (social connection and relationships) and Reflection (thought and meaning-making). Based on student responses, support staff at the program are provided an HSA Profile for each participating student, providing information about the student’s socioemotional balance.

HSA History and Overview: Dr. Gil Noam’s focus on relationships, development, symptoms, and resiliency goes back over two decades. The Holistic Student Assessment resiliency inventories appeared in their earliest form as part of a Mehyun Song’s graduate thesis with Dr. Gil Noam at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Originally developed for research, rather than evaluative, purposes, in 2007 a version of the Holistic Student Assessment was used at RALLY sites. The HSA is continually being refined and improved as a tool, and is currently being used to evaluate thousands of students across hundreds of educational sites.

An HSA Profile: The HSA profile provides teachers and student support staff with a snapshot of a student’s long-term socio-emotional state. The profile provides information both on the student’s strengths (how well the student is able to cope with stressful factors in the environment), and on the student’s struggles (the extent to which the student cannot control the body, mind, and cognition). These profiles can be especially useful in identifying those students who are struggling in a way that may not be immediately obvious to teacher. For a sample profile, see below.

HSA Administration Training: Because the Holistic Student Assessment is based on self-reported measures, and can compare a student’s scores to those of her peers, it is crucial for HSA administration to be as procedural and standardized as possible. We require that anyone who wishes to administer the HSA be trained on proper survey administration techniques.

For information on using the HSA, please Contact Us. For a flyer with information about the HSA, please Click Here; you should feel free to download and print this flyer.

Sample HSA Profile:
Sample HSA Profile

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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