Kym teaches sixth grade students in an urban school where most of the families in the community live below the poverty line. Each year the majority of the students in her school fail the state-wide tests. Kym follows school district teaching guides and typically uses direct instruction in her Language Arts and Social Studies classes. The classroom assessments are designed to mirror those on the state-wide tests so the students become familiar with the assessment format. When Kym is in a graduate summer course on motivation she reads an article called, “Teaching strategies that honor and motivate inner-city African American students” (Teel, Debrin-Parecki, & Covington, 1998) and she decides to change her instruction and assessment in fall in four ways: First, she stresses an incremental approach to ability focusing on effort and allows students to revise their work several times until the criteria are met. Second, she gives students choices in performance assessments (e.g. oral presentation, art project, creative writing). Third, she encourages responsibility by asking students to assist in classroom tasks such as setting up video equipment, handing out papers etc. Fourth, she validates student’ cultural heritage by encouraging them to read biographies and historical fiction from their own cultural backgrounds.

Kym reports that the changes in her students’ effort and demeanor in class are dramatic: students are more enthusiastic, work harder, and produce better products. At the end of the year twice as many of her students pass the State-wide test than the previous year.

Kym’s story illustrates several themes related to assessment that we explore in this chapter. First, choosing effective classroom assessments is related to instructional practices, beliefs about motivation, and the presence of state-wide standardized testing. Second, some teacher-made classroom assessments enhance student learning and motivation—some do not. Third, teachers can improve their teaching through action research. This involves identifying a problem (e.g. low motivation and achievement), learning about alternative approaches (e.g. reading the literature), implementing the new approaches, observing the results (e.g. students’ effort and test results), and continuing to modify the strategies based on their observations.

Best practices in assessing student learning have undergone dramatic changes in the last 20 years. When Rosemary was a mathematics teacher in the 1970s, she did not assess students’ learning she tested them on the mathematics knowledge and skills she taught during the previous weeks. The tests varied little in format and students always did them individually with pencil and paper. Many teachers, including mathematics teachers, now use a wide variety of methods to determine what their students have learned and also use this assessment information to modify their instruction. In this chapter the focus is on using classroom assessments to improve student learning, and we begin with some basic concepts.


Teel, K. M., Debrin-Parecki, A., & Covington, M. V. (1998). Teaching strategies that honor and motivate inner-city African American students: A school/university collaboration. Teaching and Teacher Education, 14(5), 479–495.