Smith and Ragan, “Assessing Learning from Instruction”

In this chapter Smith and Ragan look at three kinds of “assessment[s] of student learning, or in common language, ‘testing’”—“entry skills (to see if learners are ready for the instruction), preassessments (to see what learners already know of the material to be taught), and postassessments (to see what learners learned from instruction)” (p. 123). Following this exploration, they examine “the characteristics of assessment instruments: validity, reliability, and practicality,” finding that “trade-offs must frequently be made among these qualities in designing assessments” (p. 123)

I found particularly interesting Smith and Ragan’s sketch of the difficulties of using an essay as a format for assessment (p. 114). Their concern about objectivity makes sense, of course, but seems at once to overthink and under-think the problem. Having only taught college-level composition, I’d be interested to learn how essays in primary and secondary schools are used, evaluated, etc. these days (both before and after the Common Core launch). In the composition I was trained/instructed to teach, the basis for evaluating an essay was argument development, connections between texts considered, and overall critical thinking skills.

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