Accuracy in Evidence of Student Learning

There has always been a tension between talking to students and assessing their academic work. Students can talk a good game and perform well on tests, or they can talk a good game and perform poorly. Those students who do not offer much evidence of learning verbally may or may not test well. But regardless of these tensions between perceived and realized assessment of student learning, the need for accuracy is a very important bottom-line in collecting evidence of student learning.

Verbal Testing

The assessment of student learning through verbal conversation provides teachers with a sense of student learning that is transitory and fleeting. In large classes, teachers are not able to follow up with each student. an assessment of the student’s ability to accomplish the work that is set by the teacher.

Quizzes and Tests

The use of quizzes and tests, written or verbal, is the confirmation of the teacher’s personal judgement. So the form of testing may not be the real tension but rather the need to collect evidence of student learning in multiple testing modalities, or types of tests, in order to more accurately track the development of student achievement over time.

Performance Assessments

Performance assessments, where students are asked to show what they know and what they can do, have been offered as the solution to the tension between content knowledge and the application of that content knowledge to some academic task.

Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT)

A computer adaptive test tries to resolve all of these testing tensions by offering a test that responds to the test-taker’s answers of what they know and can do by comparing their answers to other student answers and, in real time during the test, selecting a harder question or an easier question. If the student gets it right, a harder questions is asked, if they get it wrong, and easier questions is asked:

The purpose of computer adaptive tests is to assess the individual participant’s level of placement based on questions that have been previously ranked through item response theory. Computer adaptive testing (CAT) uses computers as the method of administering the test and grading the participant’s score. Even though there are both advantages and disadvantages to CAT, these tests are gradually becoming more efficient and versatile as they are utilized more commonly in healthcare, education, military, and company use.


There are just as many advantages as disadvantages to Computer Adaptive Testing, but the chance to more accurately assess student learning is possible. Perhaps the most significant advantage of this type of testing is that the assessment is quicker to identify the student’s level of learning and this could help teachers to provide more helpful teaching in the response to the learner’s need. And we can see that if assessment becomes more accurate, teaching may benefit, and learning may be improved.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from EdSpeak

Discover the tools and strategies modern schools need to help their students grow.

Community Schools Reform

As a seasoned researcher of K-12 public schools and someone dedicated to improving the quality, equity, and creativity in education, I wholeheartedly support the proposal

Read More »

Subscribe to EdSpeak!

The SchoolWorks Lab Blog, connecting teaching to policy through research.