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How do you assess student mastery of the curriculum in secondary language arts? How often? 

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Assessment is critical to student success, but assessing for mastery should occur only when students have had an opportunity to learn the content.

There are two types of assessment: formative and summative.  Assessing for mastery is summative.  You are trying to determine if students have mastered the content.  This should occur after several formative assessments.  Formative assessment are used to see how much students have learned and what areas they still need to work on. 

In the secondary classroom, it is important to be organized.  Before beginning a unit of instruction, the teacher must determine the objectives and how they will be accomplished.  One does not just teach Romeo and Juliet.  One has several objectives as well as comprehension.  For example, the goal might be to understand universal themes, Shakespearean language, structures of drama, or other related objectives.  These need to be determined before beginning a unit.  Language arts is a huge subject area, and it is easy to get lost in the different directions you can go.  This is why it is important to choose the objectives before beginning.

Formative assessment occurs several times along the way.  Instead of just giving a test on comprehension at the end of the play, I might choose to give a quiz on each act, or have children act out scenes or do other projects.  In each case the purpose is the same—I want to see who is understanding and who is not.  I need to know this before my final summative assessment, so I can use interventions to get students to higher levels of mastery.

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The mastery of the curriculum in secondary language arts is assessed by analyzing whether the students can operate under the expectations that are listed in the district's standards. Each school district has academic standards that need to be met. Each standard offers a measure, or an expectation, regarding how these standards are met.

What teachers should do is base the expectations that we write in our lesson plans using the same expectations of the district standards based on the overall performance of the class. Similarly, the rubrics that we build for students to self-monitor their instruction should address those same standards and also offer a measurement of how the student will be evaluated.

Formative assessment (where we observe the behaviors, attitudes, performance skills, and application of knowledge) is done consistently, whether the teacher wants to keep a log of observations or not. Summative assessment where we ask raw knowledge on paper, should not be done that often. That should happen at the very end of a unit, no more than 4 times per quarter. In the end, it is the formative and not the summative assessment that answers all of our questions.

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