New Book For Parents Explains Assessent

K-12 Testing

But Are They Learning? A Commonsense Parents' Guide to Assessment and Grading in Schools, by Richard Stiggins and Tanis Knight (1997), is a clearly written and mostly solid book for parents.


The authors focus on classroom assessment. They argue that teachers must use a balanced variety of assessment methods that are appropriate for the educational purpose of the assessment. Though the book somewhat overvalues multiple-choice and short-answer methods, it does clearly explain why these methods cannot assess all the important areas of learning. It also emphasizes the inappropriateness of using "right answer" paper and pencil tests with young children.


Though the authors state, "Standardized tests. . . make small contributions to a very large assessment picture," they somewhat minimize the problems caused by most large-scale tests. Given the influence of standardized tests over curriculum and instruction, the book would serve parents better by explaining these tests and their limitations in more detail. Exposing those tests can help empower parents and their children.


The book focuses on assessment methods that measure how well students have mastered content, including critical thinking within and across subjects, but it does not address teachers' use of assessment to understand how each student learns. The authors particularly emphasize the importance of students learning to assess their own work and progress. However, the book does not discuss the value of having students at times not only assess their work but also define the work to be done. It thus overemphasizes the measurement of a standardized curriculum.


The final section discusses the role in assessment for parents, which is not to work on the assessment technology but to ensure that the district, school and teachers support high quality, unbiased assessment practices. The book offers good ideas for how parents can find out about assessment practices and influence improvement. The discussion on bias is a good introduction but somewhat superficial.


Available from Assessment Training Institute, 50 SW 2nd Ave., Ste. 300, Portland, OR 97204; $10.00.