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Getting at Student Understanding—The Key to Teachers’ Use of Test Data


by Jonathan Supovitz — 2012

Background/Context: Much has been written about the efficacy of formative assessment. However, relatively little of that research focuses on the design qualities of the assessment instruments themselves that might provide useful information to teachers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article decomposes the formative assessment process and reviews the empirical literature on the feedback from an assessment event to the teacher to investigate two research questions. First, what are the design elements of assessments that can enhance their embedded information to help teachers understand how students are thinking about a particular content area? Second, what do teachers need to know to be able to take advantage of more sophisticated assessment designs?

Research Design: The article reviews the literature on test design qualities, focusing on empirical studies that have examined how the qualities of tests inform teachers about student understanding. Overall, 117 articles were synthesized to extract three qualities of test design that enable or constrain their potential to provide insight to teachers about student thinking.

Findings/Results: The literature review identified three crucial test qualities that improve their potential value to teachers. First, tests can convey information about students’ developmental path toward a learning goal. Second, tests can provide information about students’ thought processes. Third, tests can be designed to reveal information about students’ misconceptions within a content area.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes with a conceptual framework to guide future research on ways to maximize the potential feedback that teachers can receive from assessments. The framework, and hence suggestions for future research, focuses on conducting research on the hypothesized relationships between the qualities of a test itself, the analyses that teachers conduct from the resulting data of student answers, teachers’ instructional responses, and the effect of this process on student learning.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 11, 2012, p. 1-29
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16804, Date Accessed: 10/25/2014 12:14:34 AM

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About the Author
  • Jonathan Supovitz
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    JONATHAN SUPOVITZ is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Co-director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. He is an accomplished mixed-method researcher, examining the factors influencing the implementation and impact of educational reform initiatives. He has published widely on a range of education topics, including testing and accountability, district reform, educational leadership, reform implementation, and organizational learning. His current research focuses on how schools and districts use different forms of data to support the improvement of teaching and learning.
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