Our role as religious educators is different from those of regular teachers in many ways. We seek, not only to instruct our students, but to help them form their consciences, develop morals and give them an internal compass on which to measure the actions of their lives.
With this in mind, our methods of testing and evaluating our students must differ from our secular counterparts. This is a complex task that requires a careful balance of evaluating what they know about the Church, its history, and the Catechism, as well as, how they are developing in their love of the Lord. Both the knowledge of Church teaching and the wisdom of following Christ's direction in their lives is necessary.
Grading vs. Assessing
Looking at the difference between assessing and grading a student may provide some insight into this process. When we grade, we look at the specific amount of information learned (or perhaps only memorized), and the final amount of content that is processed. When we assess we look at a complete profile of achievement which is diagnostic in nature and is goal-directed rather than content driven. Remember, our students will not pass or fail in faith, but grow in it daily. In simpler terms; We want to know what they have learned and internalized, rather than whether they can just memorize the correct information. This is not to imply that memorization is wrong, just incomplete for the purposes of instructing others in the faith.
Look, for example, at the Biblical story of the two brothers. Their father asked them to go to the vineyard for him. One brother initially said, "No," to his father, but then thought better of it and completed the task. The other one said, "Yes," immediately, but did not follow through.
Which brother had truly internalized the father's will? (Matt 21:28-31) The first used his wisdom to weigh the gravity of his initial response and corrected it. The second, knew the correct responses, but did not have the wisdom to understand the importance of his father's request, or his own obedience.
Many tools can be used in the evaluation of our students' knowledge.
Laying the foundation of faith is vital, therefore, tests and quizzes at any level of faith formation may be useful. Students should be able to recite the 10 Commandments, basic prayers and answer simple questions about the history of the Church. (For example; Who were Adam and Eve and what is original sin?) In later grades an understanding of the Four Marks of the Church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and some knowledge of the Councils would be appropriate expectations for our students.
For assessment of the students' internalization of what they have learned, however, discussions, open ended questions or verbal quizzes may be better tools.
Whatever tools we employ, a strong knowledge of Church teaching and the development of Catholic character should be the goals of our faith formation experience. God bless you.