New methods of assessment are just as important as restructured curricula and revised teaching strategies. Assessment of student learning must be part of every teaching and learning experience. Students should learn to evaluate their own learning. Traditional student testing programs, which rely on final, one-time evaluations, provide data that is of limited use to students as they construct knowledge. Meaningful assessment, like meaningful learning, must be authentic and connected to real-life problems.
A constructivist approach to learning and teaching has profound implications for the way learning is measured. Traditional classroom practice has relied heavily on paper-and-pencil tests to measure students' learning and ability to apply knowledge. Linn, Baker, and Dunbar (1991) observed that "paper-and-pencil, multiple choice tests derive their value primarily as indicators or correlates of other valued performances. Unfortunately, indicators are too often confused with goals, just as norms are too often confused with standards."
Lorrie Shepard expresses another important view in an interview for Educational Resarcher (Kirst, 1991). When asked, "What are your concerns about using multiple-choice tests to drive classroom instruction?," Shepard answers in part: "Emphasis on raising test scores above all else reinforces other behaviorist principles widely held in schools, like the idea that thinking and reasoning should be postponed until after basic skills have been mastered."
Cognitive learning theories assert that learning is not linear, as behaviorists contend. Instead of building knowledge bit by bit from fundamental elements into more complex, higher-order thinking, learning is a process of connecting prior understanding with new learning. Consequently, an assessment strategy that measures the acquisition of facts and elements cannot serve a constructivist model.
Linking assessment to instruction - embedding it in the process of learning - is critical to full implementation of new science standards. To allow students to construct learning in the classroom through authentic experiences, assessment must be: