Classroom Assessment and Research: An Update on Uses, Approaches, and Research Findings
reviewed by Susan M. Brookhart - 2001
Title: Classroom Assessment and Research: An Update on Uses, Approaches, and Research Findings
Author(s): Thomas Angelo (Ed)
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787998850, Pages: 116, Year: 1998
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Classroom Assessment and Research, in the context of this book, means Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs, Angelo & Cross, 1993) applied in higher education classrooms to study and improve the teaching-learning process. CATs are usually anonymous; they are assessments for the purpose of feedback for instruction, with a focus on the teacher understanding the learner. They are not assessments of identified students for grading purposes.
This book is a collection of ten chapters that describe uses and results of classroom assessment and research in various schools or higher education systems. It is the second book in the New Directions series to do that. In 1991, Angelo edited No. 46 in this same series, Classroom Research: Early Lessons from Success. No mystery about the author’s message in that title!
The reader will find two themes in this book that cross all of the chapters. The first is the most important. Student involvement in their own learning -- through the reflection, summary, synthesis, or questioning that CATs require -- is powerful. When teachers ask students to think about their learning in order to better understand their own teaching, students also benefit. First, students benefit from improved instruction as teachers make mid-course corrections based on the feedback they receive from CATs. Second, motivation increases as students find out their teachers care about what they think. And third, saving the best for last, when students actively reflect about what they know and where they are confused, they activate the kind of cognitive strategies that not only help them learn the immediate course content but are useful for learning other content, too.
The power of student reflection and participation in formative assessment is amazing. When it amazes the faculty members who use it, they can become advocates, proponents, supporters, true believers, or even "addicts" of classroom research, as the authors of one of the chapters confess. And thus the second theme is the unique blend of testimony and empirical evidence that characterizes the chapters in this book. The chapters are all written by advocates, who mix narrative, exhortation, examples, and data tables. The result is very readable, although it is hard to know what canons of scholarship to apply. There is too much data to judge the pieces as essays, but there is too much advocacy to judge them as conventional research.
And there, I think, is just where editor Angelo wants the readers to be. He wants the readers to get inspired, to get involved, to use classroom assessment and research to examine their own teaching and the learning it promotes. In this purpose the book succeeds admirably.
The book is divided into three parts. Part One includes two chapters on the philosophy of classroom assessment and research. In Chapter 1, Cross defines Classroom Assessment and Classroom Research and distinguishes between them. Classroom Assessment involves finding out about student understandings. Classroom Research poses questions about the improvement of teaching practice and collects data to support that. In Chapter 2, Steadman and Svinicki describe how CATs benefit student learning, not just teacher improvement.
Part Two includes three chapters on research that has been done about Classroom Assessment and Research. In Chapter 3, Steadman presents the results of studying CAT practices and experiences of faculty and students at community colleges in California. In Chapter 4, Cottell and Harwood report no differences in student achievement in their accounting classes when they used CATs, compared with when they didn’t. Despite this "no harm" effect, the authors remained enthusiastic about the potential of this tool for understanding teaching and learning. In Chapter 5, Soetaert reports the results of a study of the attitudes of 10 faculty and their students after using CATs.
Part Three includes five chapters on extensions or expansions of the Classroom Assessment and Research process beyond the basic purpose of improving individual faculty members’ teaching. In Chapter 6, Eisenbach, Golich, and Curry describe a study comparing the results of using CATs in classes in three very different disciplines at the California State University at San Marcos: management, political science, and literature and writing. In Chapter 7, Peterson and Stack describe lessons learned from a systemwide approach to Classroom Assessment and Research in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. In Chapter 8, Richlin describes how using CATs in a required course for teaching assistants at the University of Pittsburgh contributes to the development of new and aspiring instructors. In Chapter 9, Tebo-Messina and Van Aller describe how the Learning Research Project at Winthrop University has evolved to serve both Classroom Assessment and Research and program accountability functions. In Chapter 10, Walker and Angelo introduce a CAT they have developed for use with student teams, when instructors use cooperative groups.
In sum, this book is worth reading. It chronicles the continued development of what has become a very popular movement in higher education, and with good reason. Involving students in their own instruction, fostering reflection and formative action on the part of both students and teachers, is powerful. It goes to the heart of the educational enterprise, and everybody learns something.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.