Stepping Outside the Assessment Box

4 Min Read  •  Assessments

When it comes to Arts Integration over here at IAS, we are all about standards-based learning! So a standards-based assessment would be the best choice when it comes to gauging the learning of our students.

Types of Assessment

Generally there are three common types of assessment we use for our lessons

  1. Diagnostic Assessment – commonly used to identify current knowledge or misconceptions regarding a topic;
  2. Formative Assessment – used to provide feedback during the instructional process; and
  3. Summative Assessment – used to sum up learning at the end of the instructional process.

If you are looking for an amazing resource detailing different types of assessment, I highly recommend this one created by Susan Riley.  However, there are instances when these 3 most common assessments might not be best-suited for the task at hand.

The good news is that there are many additional types of assessments that exist as a means to assess student knowledge and learning. To help offer some alternative ideas, I have created an Assessment Tool Expansion Pack using research from the University of Exeter.

This particular study looks at eight assessment types total. But I have narrowed these down to concentrate on three alternative assessment options: Dynamic Assessments, Synoptic Assessments, and Ipsative Assessments. These assessments are not what I would recommend using on a daily or even weekly basis. But hopefully, they will serve to provide variety and a holistic perspective to your assessment toolbox.  Each of these methods also works well paired with Arts Integration and STEAM learning. Why? Because they lend themselves to creative learning in multiple subject areas.

We’ve created a handy downloadable with the different types of assessments, available exclusively for our Accelerator Members.

Dynamic Assessments

Dynamic assessments are meant to measure not only the skills a child possesses but also their learning potential.  They’re complementary to “Static Assessments,” like standardized tests. They’re also usually very interactive between the teacher and student.

These types of assessment are often particularly useful when working with special populations of students. Some examples of special populations include English Language Learners and Special Needs Learners.  Even students coming from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Like in a diagnostic assessment, dynamic assessments might use pre/post tests to gauge student learning. They also examine how much teaching and what type of teaching was required for student learning, and the degree of transfer of learning.  

So Many Types of Tests!

In a traditional static test, a teacher might rephrase a question or encourage the child to show understanding.  But in a dynamic assessment, the teacher would go beyond simple feedback  to provide more elaborate feedback. For example, instead of “that’s correct!”, the teacher could instead say “that’s correct because a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea and a dog fits into one of those specific categories!”.

In a dynamic test, a teacher might also participate during a test by asking a student “why do you think this is the correct answer? How do you know this?” in an attempt to get the student to verbalize the reasoning behind their responses. The teacher might also intervene by testing, teaching, and then retesting.  For example, an English Language Learner might be asked to tell the story of the Three Little Pigs. The teacher might evaluate initial story narratives. Then, teach specifically to the places where the student’s first tests showed a lack of understanding. The teacher may then ask students to retell the story. The pre/post tests are compared and considered along with listener effort and responsiveness.

More than a specific style of test, dynamic testing is meant to be a method of “active testing” as opposed to “passive testing.” Take a deep-dive into dynamic assessments at this Colorado Department of Education resource page.

Synoptic Assessments

A synoptic assessment is a specific type of summative assessment that tests the student’s understanding of connections between different elements of a subject or different subjects. The purpose of this type of assessment is to teach students how to make connections between topics and to increase student engagement while using a holistic assessment approach.

The key to synoptic assessments is that students need to be able to recall knowledge from previous units of study, and transfer that knowledge to a new subject or area of learning. These can be aural or written assessments. They also tend to be more project based.  

Project-Based Assessments

For example, students might learn about different countries’ geography and culture over several units of learning. For an assessment, they might be asked to create a “mock United Nations” where students role-play and come together to use background knowledge to solve the “problems” established in the assessment outline. Or students might have to utilize the design process and background knowledge of forces and Newton’s Laws to create and refine Rube Goldberg machines.  

In this model of assessment, students can offer peer feedback. In this set-up, they are learning from the way others have approached the task. Learning through assessing the work of a peer helps students to evaluate and benchmark their own personal performance. Teachers using synoptic assessment look for breadth of understanding. In other words, the student’s abilities to see beyond obvious and black/white responses to deeper implications of questions. Students should link relevant ideas and arguments across subject and topic areas.  

Another example of a synoptic assessment could take the form of an essay that requires students to acknowledge more than one viewpoint. Synoptic essay prompts usually start with the words “How far…” or “How valid/convincing was…”. An example of a synoptic essay prompt for secondary students might be “How far was the personality cult of Adolf Hitler responsible for the success of the Nazi party?” This question asks students to think about the leading figures and events of WWII with a broad lens. To find more synoptic essay prompts check out this resource offered by the Historical Association.

Ipsative Assessments

An ipsative assessment compares a student’s achievement against their own previous achievement. One of the most common ways we might be familiar with an ipsative assessment would be at the gym.  You can compare how far or fast you ran this time to how far or fast you ran last time when running on a treadmill. When lifting weights you might compare the amount of weight you are capable of lifting and note how that changes over time.  When using a bicycle machine you may take note of endurance or speed compared to previous rides.

In all of these examples, it is not particularly important how you are doing compared to how someone else is doing, or how you are doing compared to a rubric or standardized expectation (as a criterion-referenced test would do). All of these are examples of ipsative assessments and they serve the purpose of measuring personal progress and development. This type of assessment shows whether a student is taking advice from a teacher on previous tests, learning from past mistakes, and growing as an individual.

Ipsative assessments benefit all student learners. Why?  Because students who may normally test low and become discouraged, can instead take note of improvement over time. This type of assessment also prevents students who are usually very high achievers from becoming complacent with good assessment scores. Instead, they strive to improve their score with each iteration of an assessment.

If you want to dive even deeper into the world of assessments, you’ll definitely want to check out Susan Riley’s article entitled The Types of Assessment for Learning.

About the Author

Jaime enjoys producing the ArtWorks for Teachers podcast, creating social media content, and working with her colleagues to provide quality events and resources to educators across the world. Jaime resides in Hanover, Pennsylvania with her husband, their three children, a sweet (but dumb) dog named Paisley, and two cats, Skye and Finn. A steadfast advocate for the arts throughout her life, Jaime enjoys playing her flute and singing in her spare time, and recently took on the role of President of her children's high school band boosters organization.

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