Importance of Affective Assessments

When one thinks of educational assessment, one often thinks of cognitive measures.  We teach students important concepts, how to problem solve, and how to think critically. Then we create tests to determine whether the students can do or know those things. In this blog, I’ve written a lot about how to go about doing that. I’ve discussed validity, reliability, and item writing guidelines.

Today, I’d like to write about the importance of affective measures. What are affective measures? These are assessments that focus on students’ attitudes, interests, and values. For instance, an assessment that measures how students view themselves as learners would be an example of an affective assessment instrument.

Dr. Popham (2006) has a bias towards affective measures. He argues that affective measures are equally, if not more, important as cognitive measures. Whereas cognitive assessments measure what students can do, affective assessments measure what students will do in the future. When teachers measure children’s attitudes toward the democratic process, we gain insights into how they will likely act toward the democratic system when they grow up. Knowing this is equally important, if not more than, to knowing whether the students can name and describe the three branches of government in the U.S.

One this count, I agree with Dr. Popham. Affective measures are and should be important in education.

Detractors of affective measurement argue that teachers should not be measuring (and therefore influencing) a student’s values. For example, they don’t want teachers to be influencing a student’s political or religious views. I agree with that. As Dr. Popham points out, there are universal values that we should and can agree to teach our students. For example, we can and should promote a student’s positive attitude towards learning. Also, we can promote and nurture a student’s interest in a specific subject. We can assess and promote values such as integrity, justice, and honesty. So, there are many attitudes, interests, or values that we can agree to assess.

The best and easiest way to assess these affective measures is to use self-reports. Ask students to report their degree of agreement with statements using a Likert scale. (I might write more about how to develop a Likert scale in the future. Let me know if you would like to see that as a blog post.) One of the key things to remember when assessing affect using self-reports is that we are assessing the attitudes, interests, and values of the group, not of an individual student. So, tell students that their responses will be anonymous. Use procedures to ensure anonymity; this will reduce the students’ tendency to respond in a socially desirable way. Minimizing this tendency will increase the validity of any inferences that we make from the results.

A Naiku, we believe in the power and usefulness of affective measurements in education. We believe that teachers not only should know each individual student through assessment, teachers also need to know their students as a group. We need to know how they feel about or view certain interests and values. Knowing this information will make a teacher more informed, and ultimately, a better and more effective teacher.

On the Naiku system, you can easily create affective assessments. We don’t require that an assessment be a cognitive test. Go ahead; try to create an affective assessment. If you already have some and have used them to great benefit, please consider sharing them with other teachers on Naiku.

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