Assessment is a Bad Word?

Posted by on Apr 1, 2010

Many teachers in many districts have the same reaction to the word assessment.  Mention it, and you could very well elicit a visual cringe.  That’s interesting.

The most oft cited criticism of assessment is that we don’t have time for it.  I don’t really get that.

I can’t say it any better than Grant Wiggins did at ASCD when he was asked the same question.  He responded;

“If you say you don’t have time for this, you assume that the teaching is more important than the learning. Feedback is the key to reaching goals. Saying there’s no time is to confuse causing learning for mentioning stuff.”


Thanks to Purplemattfish for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Diane Main
    April 1, 2010

    Assessment is absolutely necessary, or else why are we even doing this? It’s standardized tests that suck the big pachank in the sky.

  2. tenteacher
    April 1, 2010

    I don’t believe that assessment is bad. Good teachers use formative and summative assessments regularly to guide instruction. However, I do believe that the way some states are using summative assessment is misguided. I don’t believe that you can test children for hours over several consecutive days to determine how much that child has learned or how successful the teacher has been. There are simply too many variables for this snapshot to be the only assessment that counts.

  3. Michael Wacker
    April 1, 2010

    I think assessment is necessary, and yes even the state mandated assessments are necessary. It’s mining the data that can and should change, what does the data tell us, is it growth, is it teacher effectiveness, is it both, is it neither?
    A lot of brilliant people disagree with me, and I would just ask that they think of better solutions and ways to improve the collection methods, not just “rant” against the current design.
    I want accountability for my child’s school and teacher, I want it as a teacher myself as well. I want to be able to measure if I’m doing “it” well, whatever “it” is.
    We need to shift a lot of old school thinking in schools, that’s been talked about and debated ad nauseum, continuous and standardized assessment is a piece of this conversation.
    Why are we so afraid of national standards and assessments? Seems to me we are in the minority as a nation that allows 50 individual states to do “their own thing” in regards to standards, and assessment?

    I look forward to hearing more about this topic from those of you I respect and admire, I don’t know it all, I am here to learn as well.

  4. Daniel Espejo
    April 1, 2010


    I remember Wiggins making this statement (though I appreciate your thorough record to be able to quote him). But I’m really here to let you know that I went to respond to your previous article on formative assessment, and realized I finally had a start to something I’ve been trying to hash out for weeks now. So, thank you for these posts!

  5. Heather Mason
    April 2, 2010

    We cringe because usually when the word is used it means mandated, formated, multiple choice, report you scores, have a meeting about the scores and wait to see if you get paid (OK…that last one may just be in my state if the Senate gets its way) test. Assessment is necessary, but it takes many forms and rarely needs a bubble sheet. Most teachers agree with that.

  6. Ben K.
    April 2, 2010

    @ Mr. Wacker – What is the “it” that you speak of. I think that, as teachers, most of can put a finger on what “it” is. However, the people in charge of schools and testing (gov’t) don’t really have clue as to what “it” is. And that is part of the problem with standardized testing.

    As teachers, we are constantly using assessments. Formative, summative, daily, weekly, hourly, minute to minute. We do assessment. It is built into everything we do.

    The word assessment is tied to standardized tests, which do impede on instructional time. In Minnesota, we have MCA tests that we take yearly. We have MAP tests that we take quarterly. We have F & P tests that are done three times a year. We have CBM tests that are done weekly with some kids. All of that in addition to the ongoing assessment that is done by teachers, all types, in the classroom.

    Lastly, in my school, we are being judged on old data and data that doesn’t accurately reflect our students differentiated learning. The MCAs say that are students aren’t making adequate yearly progress. However, our ongoing MAP tests show that, this year, our students are making huge gains. In both math and reading, across grade levels, they are beating the national norms in gains by at least single digits but in most cases, double or triple.

    So, assessment good. Yes. It happens all the time. Formal standardized testing? Somewhat good. Only if the powers that be know what they doing, what they should be assessing and knowing expectations should be.

    Alright, great post. You got me. With what is happening in my school right now and your post, I’m ready to fight the powers. Thank you.

  7. Michael Wacker
    April 2, 2010

    @Ben K
    Great points…
    I think for me, the “it’ is the objectives, or the scope and sequence around what we are teaching. Ongoing assessment drives our planning and instruction, if there is some consistency in how we are assessing and the results are reliable, I’m all for it, but unfortunately that doesn’t always happen across grade levels, districts, and states.
    You bring up a good point about the gap between an ongoing assessment and yearly assessment, that is where something needs to happen, that is a flaw in one or both of the assessments. Alfie Kohn back in January shot holes in the case for National Standards Not sure that I agree, but here are a couple interesting bits form that article,

    “On 8th grade math and science exams, eight of the 10 top-scoring countries had centralized education systems, but so did nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.”

    I agree with this statement,
    “Offered a list of standards, we should scrutinize each one, but also ask who came up with them and for what purpose. Is there room for discussion and disagreement—and not just by experts—regarding what, and how, we’re teaching and how authentic our criteria are for judging success?”

    We should all be a part of these conversations if we have a passion for education, and in my opinion we need to be prepared t listen to people that disagree with us. 🙂

  8. Chris Fritz
    April 9, 2010

    I have a feeling that despite all the “disagreement” that seems to happen over assessment, it’s really just a matter of semantics. I think we all love assessment when it means giving meaningful feedback to students to help them improve, but hate assessment when it means giving students timed, scheduled, high-stakes tests, the results of which don’t help them improve (and really aren’t even meant for them, nor for teacher, but for an external arbiter that suddenly thinks they can judge the quality of learning in your classroom).

    On a related note, it’d be nice if I didn’t have to read through anymore twitter arguments about “reform” vs. “new form” – the arguers always end up realizing they agree on everything except which buzz word to use.

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  10. luan
    May 18, 2010

    I often name myself a devoted teacher. However, as I read your article, it seems to me that I care about teaching not learning. To me marking the students’ essays is really time-consuming. As a result, I usually leave them until the last minutes. Now I realize that I am teaching not for my students’ improvement but my teaching only. Many thanks for the article. I am marking my students’ essays now and will give feedback to them in the coming class.

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  14. Carl Anderson
    February 23, 2013

    In reply to that Wiggins quote, how is assessment part of learning and not teaching? All assessment is an interruption of learning. All teaching that begins with the question of how we are going to do assessment is not teaching at all. Teaching does not beget learning, assessment is not teaching, teaching is helping learners answer their own questions. This is a straw man at best.


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