The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part of Pedagogy
reviewed by Jeffrey K. Smith - 2001
Title: The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part of Pedagogy
Author(s): Susan M. Brookhart
Publisher: The George Washington University Press, Washington
ISBN: 1878380893, Pages: 132, Year: 1999
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The purpose of The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part of Pedagogy is, in the words of the author, Susan Brookhart,
...to provide college and university instructors with a working knowledge of classroom assessment practices and an overview of the literature about classroom assessment in higher education." (p. 91).
She accomplishes both tasks with clarity and an efficient writing style. This book is to the point, conversational in tone and neither patronizes nor overwhelms the reader. The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment would be the book I would recommend to a colleague from the arts and sciences who was looking for help in this area. In fact, I would recommend it to any beginning faculty member without prior teaching experience. That is how important getting assessment right is at the college level.
The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part of Pedagogy is part of a series published by the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. The book is laid out more like a monograph than a book, with an Executive Summary, a Forward by the series editor, and an Introduction preceeding the main body of the text. The structure is somewhat cumbersome, but Brookhart works with it well. She has organized her presentation into seven chapters following the introduction:
This organization addresses the topics that need to be covered without going too far into measurement theory. One aspect of the book that I enjoyed as a measurement specialist, but wondered about for the general reader, was the extensive listing of research articles on measurement issues in higher education and the occasional review of same. I would think most professors of history or ceramic engineering might have preferred more examples or practical advice.
In addition to having the proper coverage and tone, Brookhart’s work has a number of other areas of strength which are noteworthy. The book is timely and up to date without being trendy. Performance and portfolio assessment are given their due in the context of assessment options that include the old standbys of multiple choice and essay format. In fact, her categorization of assessment options into: paper and pencil, performance assessment, oral questions, and portfolios shows excellent balance, encouraging exploration of more recent developments without denegrating standard practice.
Another notable strength is Brookhart’s discussion of rubrics. Many college faculty are clueless as to how to go about grading essay exams or performance assessments. Brookhart’s treatment of the topic, including detailed examples or how to go about the process, is absolutely first rate. She also presents very useful charts on how to work toward measures that are valid and reliable indicators of classroom achievement in readily comprehensible terms.
There are a few areas of the book that are not as strong as others. The section on writing multiple choice items, for example, does not provide the clear explication on how to approach the task that one finds in the subsequent section on writing essay questions. The text box listing do’s and dont’s is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t lay out for a novice professor how to go about actually constructing such questions.
The section on combining individual scores into course grades recommends taking the median of the grades in the course, especially when there are not many individual scores in the course. There are advantages to this approach, but the potential negatives are strong as well, and need to be pointed out. If a student goes into a final exam having received an A on the midterm and a B on a paper, then if all three assessments carry equal weight, any final exam score from a B to a F will produce a final grade of a B. Where is the motivation for the student to prepare for the final if a B is satisfactory?
These points notwithstanding, this is an exceptionally good work. Brookhart knows her audience and gets her message across in a fashion the intended reader will appreciate. The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part of Pedagogy is an excellent introduction to assessment for the beginning college instructor, and a useful review for the veteran.