It's all the rage in the ed deform world these days, usually used by ed deform zealots or their acolytes in the media or politics to talk about how to gauge student and teacher performance.
I think it's used because it has those soft "s" sounds rather than the hard "t" sounds of the word "tests."
Less negative impact with those soft "s" sounds.
Say it with me now - "assessments..."
Now say "tests..."
See what I mean?
Also, the word "tests" has a negative connotation left over from NCLB, so ed deform zealots and their acolytes have changed the name to "assessments" in order to fool people into thinking the Obama administration education policy is not the Bush education policy of testing, testing, testing on steroids.
It's kinda like how they changed the name of the war condition "shell shock" (which really got the point across) to first "battle fatigue" and then "post-traumatic syndrome disorder."
PTSD takes away the images and impact that the phrase "shell shock" has and makes the condition less easy to understand.
(DISCLOSURE: I borrowed the above example from George Carlin.)
So I definitely think there was a conscious decision by ed deformers to change to the "assessment" term as a way to fool people into thinking it is something more beneficial and helpful than the standardized tests Americans said they hated as part of the Bush policy.
But here is something else interesting about the word - it turns out ed deformers only like "assessments" when they're used on others and not themselves:
So, “assessment” is a buzzword in academia, and probably in other areas of endeavor as well. At the core, there’s little that’s objectionable to periodically taking a deeper look below the surface of what you’re doing, and seeing if it actually does what you think it does. Of course, taking a deeper look is not always easy, it requires some thought and reflection, and making it into an obligatory and constant bureaucratic exercise is not a good way to generate useful and thoughtful efforts.
Going beyond the reasonable notion that you should periodically take a deeper look at what you’re doing, pedagogical reformers of many sorts get convert zeal and treat assessment as a moral imperative. But, when a religion has enough zealous adherents, it might suddenly become mainstream. And when it goes mainstream, it goes from being pure to being mass market lowest common denominator oversaturation. The word “assessment” is no longer just confined to careful examinations of how well something is working. It isn’t even just applied to a bureaucratic ritual of report-writing focused on the curriculum. It’s applied to every piece of paper, every report, every bit of data, any and every piece of bureaucracy and hoop-jumping and report-generating. The odds are good that a time sheet will soon be marked “Hours assessment” and an account statement will be marked “Fiscal assessment.”
So, at lunch the other day a colleague who has drunk deeply of the kool-aid remarked on how much he hated having to write a friggin’ report over some small piece of triviality. And I said to him “Oh, I thought you’d be a big fan of assessment?” (He and I get along well enough that I can good-naturedly chide him for drinking the kool-aid and he can chide me for not drinking it. Or maybe he’s just pretending to enjoy our banter while he works on converting me.) And then he reminded me that there’s Real Assessment (done by True Scotsmen, I imagine) and all of the bullshit that they make us do.
And so I had a new insight into buzzwords and kool-aid: While some kool-aid drinkers might exult when the bureaucracy embraces their cause and turns it into a buzzword that we must all pay homage to, those who hold it sacred view their idol as having been profaned. And so I actually gained a bit of respect for some of the kool-aid drinkers. Say what you will about the tenets of assessment, dude. At least it’s an ethos.
Atrios has a definition of "assessment" too:
My understanding is that the popularity of "assessment" in higher education is based on the notion that other people suck and I would like some way to prove that, one which, preferably, would not inconvenience me or demonstrate that I, too, suck.
Thus Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg use assessments on teachers but not themselves.
Or when people try and assess Klein and Bloomberg via the same stats they try and assess teachers by, they cry foul.
Therefore Atrios is EXACTLY right.
Assessments in the NYC school system are thus: teachers suck, Klein and Bloomberg do not.