The Need, Use, and Future of Cognitive Diagnostic Assessments in Classroom Practice

The Need, Use, and Future of Cognitive Diagnostic Assessments in Classroom Practice

Ben Seipel (University of Wisconsin – River Falls, USA & California State University-Chico, USA), Gina Biancarosa (University of Oregon, USA & Center for Teaching and Learning, USA), Sarah E. Carlson (University of Oregon, USA & Center for Teaching and Learning, USA) and Mark L. Davison (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3132-6.ch001
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Abstract

Given the increases in technology, improvements in cognitive theory, and proliferation of assessments, the differentiation of classroom instruction to meet the individual needs of a diverse student population is overdue (Huff & Goodman, 2007; Leighton & Gierl, 2007). In order to meet the instructional needs of students, K-12 classroom- and university instructors need assessments that not only identify background knowledge, but also measure skills and diagnose troubles of their students (Huff & Goodman, 2007). Thus, the purpose of this chapter is to: a) explain the role and types of assessments in instructional settings, b) identify a gap in classroom assessments, c) describe how cognitive diagnostic assessments can fill that gap, d) identify the theoretical and practical impediments of implementing cognitive diagnostic assessments, and e) provide an example of a cognitive diagnostic assessment (MOCCA) that is overcoming those impediments.
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Classroom Assessment In General

Assessment means different things to different people in different positions (Cizek, 1997; Erwin, 1991). Broadly, assessment is a process of collecting and using student information (Butler & McMunn, 2006; Scriven, 1967); assessment can also refer to the instrument or tool used to collect that student information. In post-secondary settings, assessment also refers to the large-scale process of collecting data (student, faculty, and institutional) within and across campus departments for the purposes of accreditation. Ideally, assessment is the process of using this student information to measure learning/achievement, evaluate performance, and to inform and foster future learning (Phye, 1997).

Assessment serves several purposes. Traditionally, assessments have been used to measure student achievement and consequently serve as a basis for grades (Erwin, 1991). With greater frequency, assessments are also used to document student progress to inform instruction (i.e., “data driven instruction”; Erwin, 1991; Popham, 1995). Assessments can be used to identify student or programmatic needs, and then plan program improvement (Erwin, 1991; Alexander, Clinton, & Kean, 1986). Assessment can even assist in student learning and retention (i.e., “testing effect”; McDaniel, Wildman, & Anderson, 2012), and is more effective with appropriate feedback (Black & Wiliam, 1998). Assessment is also used at institutional levels for accountability and reporting purposes (Erwin, 1991). These accountability and reporting processes, however, can also have unintended consequences (that sometimes act as the purpose of assessment). For instance, while the use of common assessments can ensure that instructors are measuring learning in valid ways (Simosko, 1988), common assessments lead to the narrowing of the curriculum (Popham, 1987, 1995). Specifically, instead of measuring what has been taught and learned in class, teachers need to “teach to the test.” Finally, accreditation assessments can define an institution by what students can do in its school or program. Given the various purposes for assessment, it is imperative that instructors and administrators have a strong understanding of those purposes, characteristics, and limitations of assessments.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Diagnostic Assessment: The process or tool used to measure, diagnose, or identify an issue or problem.

Summative Assessment: The process or tool used to measure, evaluate, and record student performance that summarizes what was learned or achieved over a unit of study.

Preliminary Assessment: The process or tool used prior to instruction to measure pre-existing knowledge, determine needs, and identify skills and abilities of students.

Item Response Theory (IRT): Psychometric theory of assessment/measurement that builds upon the ideas of CTT by examining multiple parameters including item difficulty and importantly item discrimination.

Assessment: The process or tool used to collect student or institutional information to measure learning/achievement, evaluate performance, and to inform and foster future learning.

Cognitive Process: Any mental process used by an individual to retain, retrieve, use, connect, or manipulate information.

Task Analysis: The process of examining a complex cognitive process or task and breaking it down to its fundamental cognitive components including simple cognitive processes, knowledge, and skills.

Feedback: The process or product of providing information (usually qualitative) to students based on their performance with the goal to improve future performance.

Formative Assessment: The process or tool used to measure, evaluate, and record the difference between a student’s current state or ability and an end goal or standard.

Cognitive Diagnostic Assessment: The process or tool used to measure deficits and strengths in cognitive processing.

Classical Test Theory (CTT): Psychometric theory of assessment/measurement that purports that every individual has some innate or “true” ability for any given attribute, that that attribute can be measured, and that the process of measurement inherently has error. CTT is used to determine reliability of assessments, the difficulty of items, and the relation between individual items and whole assessments.

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