Assessment and testing are two different things, although you might hear them used interchangeably in a classroom setting. Understanding the differences allows teachers to be able to get the most out of both. Assessment and testing allow teachers to see how well they are doing and how well their students are doing, but they also function in different ways.
When Are They Done?
Typically tests are done at the end of a unit, at the end of a semester or at the end of a year. Yearly and bi-yearly tests are done in public schools to ensure that all students around the country are learning the same information at the same rate. Assessments, on the other hand, can be done at any time. Teachers do assessments after a lesson, after they teach a specific skill or at the same time tests are done.
Are They Required?
In many places, tests are required by laws such as No Child Left Behind. Even in schools that don't fall under those guidelines, such as home schools, tests are still required to prove to a state that a student knows a particular level of information. Assessments are not usually required by law or by a school. Assessments are used informally by teachers so they can keep track of what students understand and what areas and subjects they might need to spend more attention on.
Assessments and tests have different formats. Tests usually follow a general format, where questions are asked and students answer them. They might be essay questions, multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, or true-and-false questions, but the overall format is the same. Assessments can have different formats. They might require a student to answer questions. Or, an assessment might be a teacher talking to a student about what they know. Another assessment could be a teacher's observation of a student working or talking about a subject. Assessments might also be graded assignments, presentations or classwork that helps a teacher get an idea of what a student knows and doesn't know.
Show Different Results
Assessment and testing also show different results. Testing might show the student's ability to memorize facts and figures, instead of a true understanding of those facts and figures. However, an assessment done informally in the classroom might show that a student actually understands facts and figures, or a specific process. Often, students who do not score well on formal tests might still understand what they are being tested on, but might have test anxiety. A good teacher will use both assessments and tests so she can know whether a student has failed a test because he isn't a good test taker, or whether he really doesn't understand the material.
Terrance Karter has served as a reporter, reviewer and columnist for "The Exponent," as well as a contributor to the "Shelterbelt," both based in northeast South Dakota. Karter holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Northern State University in South Dakota.