Disadvantages of Assessments for Learning

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The word "test" is not something that most students want to hear. Assessment has become a controversial topic beyond the classroom and is discussed by individuals at the local, state and federal levels. While assessment may be considered a crucial part of education, there are questions as to its merit for learning.


Assessment is the gathering of information in the form of data. Students' conceptual knowledge and skill levels are measured and assigned a grade in the form of a number or letter. Concepts are what students know about a topic, and skills are what students can do. An evaluation is then made as a way to judge student achievement. Administrators also equate student assessment as a method of measuring teacher accountability.

Types of Assessments

Assessments are classified as summative or formative. A summative assessment is administered for the purpose of assigning a grade based on one point in time. Examples of summative assessments are quizzes, tests, projects, homework and oral presentations. A formative assessment is a more overall evaluation for the purpose of identifying strengths and weaknesses, and formulating a plan for improvement. Assessments can be formal, in the form of written tests, or informal through teacher observation.

Standardised Assessments

Standardised assessments are mandatory tests that are administered typically at the state level. These assessments are based on federal legislation enacted in 2002, known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Student achievement is measured and compared to a larger population of students across each state. Standardised assessments are constructed according to core curriculum standards, a set of learning objectives based on content and grade level. The percentage of passing scores is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher, school and school district. Curriculum decisions are often made based on standardised assessment scores.


Assessments may have a negative effect on student motivation, particularly for students performing below grade level. Careless implementation of assessments may have negative consequences, especially when the needs of special education students are not considered. Using only a written formal assessment does not provide an overall picture of student achievement. Students that perform better with oral and visual skills or who display superior creativity are at a disadvantage. Basing teacher effectiveness on standardised test scores may encourage teachers to narrow the curriculum to teach to the test. While it is unclear whether alternative assessments are effective, what is clear is that this debate will not be going away any time soon.

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