All About Assessment / Assessing Student Affect - ASCD
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May 1, 2009

All About Assessment / Assessing Student Affect

Student affect—the attitudes, interests, and values that students exhibit and acquire in school—can play a profoundly important role in students' postschool lives, possibly an even more significant role than that played by students' cognitive achievements.

But if student affect is so crucial, then why don't we assess it? One deterrent is that few teachers know how to do it. Yet assessing affect is relatively straightforward.

Teachers need to understand that they are not trying to get a fix on an individual student's affect. Instead, classroom affective assessments enable teachers to arrive at group-focused inferences, that is, inferences about the affective dispositions of an entire class. These inferences can be truly useful as teachers plan their instruction. For example, if a mathematics teacher learns that her students are, as a group, becoming negatively disposed toward mathematics, she can implement classroom activities intended to promote more positive attitudes toward math.

The evidence of students' affect will almost always be supplied in the form of students' responses to self-report affective inventories. Moreover, to promote honesty in student responses, students must respond to those inventories with total anonymity. This means that students must complete the assessment using only checkmarks,Xs, or circles. They cannot provide their names, and the assessment should not solicit any "additional comments." After all, teachers can often identify students from their handwriting.

What's an Affect Inventory?

Affect inventories are typically patterned after the attitudinal inventories that organizational psychologist Rensis Likert devised almost 80 years ago. An inventory presents a series of statements with which students are asked to agree or disagree. For older students, a teacher might use the five response options that Likert originally employed—Strongly Agree, Agree, Uncertain, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. For younger students, two or three response options might suffice.

The teacher begins by identifying several affective variables that he or she thinks are important enough to spend instructional time on in class. For instance, an elementary teacher might want to promote his students' positive dispositions toward free-time reading; he might designate "interest in reading" as one of the variables to assess in an affective inventory. The same teacher might also choose "oral presentation confidence" as another affective variable.

The teacher then crafts a pair of statements for each affective variable, one stated positively and one stated negatively. For instance, for a variable dealing with students' oral presentation confidence, a positive statement might be, "If asked to make an oral report in class, I know I can do it well." A negative statement for the same variable might be, "I'm not very good at giving oral presentations to my classmates." For each of the statements, which are scattered randomly throughout the inventory, students must indicate their degree of agreement. An affective inventory can contain two or four statements for each variable; half of the statements must be positive and half, negative. Thus, a typical affective inventory might measure four affective variables, with two or four items for each variable, resulting in either an 8-item or a 16-item self-report inventory.

How Do You Score It?

To score the inventory, points are awarded for agreement with positive statementsas well as fordisagreement with negative statements. So let's say you were measuring two affective variables in an affective inventory for 5th graders: interest in reading and oral presentation confidence. Four statements would deal with each variable—two of them positive and two negative. Let's assume there are three response options for each statement: Agree, Not Sure, and Disagree.

If a student agrees with both positive statements and disagrees with both negative statements for a particular variable, his or her score would be the highest possible; in this assessment, for this variable, that score would be 12 points (3 points awarded for each of the two positive statements with which the student agreed and 3 points awarded for each of the two negative statements with which the student disagreed). Disagreeing with the positive statements, however, and agreeing with the negative statementsgarners only 1 point per statement, so students in this category would receive the lowest number of points; in this assessment, for this variable, that score would be 4 points.

The teacher would then consider the entire class's responses to the statements for each of the two affective variables measured, arriving at an inference regarding the affective dispositions of the class. For example, if the average score of a teacher's class was 9.8 (out of a possible 12 points) for interest in reading but only 4.6 (out of a possible 12 points) for oral presentation confidence, this suggests that the teacher needs to undertake some instructional activities that are apt to promote greater confidence in oral presentation skills. Students' interest in reading appears to be quite high, so no adjustments in instruction regarding that affective variable seem warranted.

Checks and Balances

Some students, fearing to offend the teacher even though their responses are cloaked in anonymity, will supply "socially desirable" responses (what students think the teacher wants) to certain statements. Other students, sensing this as an opportunity to "get even" with the teacher, may select the response they think the teacher doesn't want to certain statements. So to some extent, these two types of responses will cancel each other out. This often leads to a less-than-perfect, but sufficiently serviceable, estimate of a group's affective dispositions.

For important affective outcomes we wish to promote in our schools—for example, students' sense of social responsibility—the time has come to do more than merely talk about these desirable outcomes. It's time to measure them.

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