Even though the words “assessment” and “evaluation” are commonly used interchangeably in our every day speech, there are subtle differences between them especially in reference to their use in education practice. As a general rule of thumb, we can think of assessment as testing to determine what a child already knows or what she is learning during the course of instruction while an evaluation is a final test or indicator of knowledge, such as a formal examination or a grade given on a report card.
An assessment might be administered prior to any formal instruction of a particular skill or the even at the beginning of a year to determine a child’s base level of knowledge. Therefore, an assessment may test a child’s knowledge of concepts that have not yet been formally taught. An assessment helps the teacher to see what information the child already knows and in turn what knowledge the child lacks. In this way, the teacher can decide where to begin instruction. Assessments can also be thought of as ongoing check-ups to monitor a child’s progress or to determine the effectiveness of the teaching. Assessments do not need to be formal tests at all, although they can be simple pencil and paper tests. However, they may just be daily or frequent observations of a child’s abilities that help to shape the teacher’s instruction to meet that particular child’s needs. In this way, assessments can help to inform practice.
Evaluations are more formal appraisals of a child’s general ability, a child’s knowledge of a particular subject area, or even of a teaching method or a formal instructional program. Evaluations are typically designed to measure what a child has been taught or the knowledge that the child should have acquired from instruction. An evaluation is a test that may be given after the completion of instruction of a specific subject area that will indicate how much the child has learned over an extended period of time. It may even be a standardized test that examines how much a child has learned in a year or throughout many years. An evaluation of a child’s performance may be represented at the end of a grading period by a grade on a test or on a report card. Such an evaluation can inform a teacher about which skills a child needs to be taught again. Evaluations also can indicate the effectiveness of a specific program or a teacher’s instructional methods. Many instructional programs (such as early literacy programs) are formally evaluated after a year to determine if they were effective at imparting the knowledge that they were designed to teach.
The practice of assessment and evaluation can be thought of as a continuous loop. An initial assessment tells the teacher what skills the child possesses and what knowledge the child lacks. The teacher can then use the results of this assessment to mold her instruction to meet that child’s needs. Then throughout the instruction the teacher can continue to assess the child periodically to monitor the child’s progress. After the teacher feels that the skills have been sufficiently taught or at the end of a particular program, a more formal evaluation can be given to determine if the child has learned the necessary skills. The teacher can then use this information to determine which skills need to be re-taught or what the child is ready to learn next.
Overall, assessment should be thought of as ongoing testing used to inform a teacher’s practice or to fine tune instruction to a specific child. Evaluation, on the other hand, is a formal test or appraisal to determine or indicate that a particular skill has been taught or a level of knowledge has been reached. Together they provide a way to specialize a child’s education by determining what knowledge a child possess and lacks and then assuring that the child has acquired skills that have been taught.