Something about assessments

Assessments can be an important part of any school. As a student, they can be something to tremble and fear at. As a teacher, it can be the same. If I had to guess, I would say that most schools today do assessments wrong. I understand that this is quite a big claim to make, but when we evaluate our teaching and learning models that we have in our classrooms and even school-wide, assessing is usually something done half-fast and last minute. I know that I am guilty of this myself and will examine my own assessment model in light of some theory.

Assessment models are normally broken down into two different categories – formative and summative. Formative assessments usually take the form of informal and formal observations, questioning, probing, testing and evaluating student progress through a course for the purpose of informing students of how they are learning and informing teachers as to how well they are teaching. Summative assessments are normally used for the purpose of showing how well a student did over a specific length of time and kind of puts a label on the progress. Formative is how well a student is doing and summative is how well a student did.

Kyriacou1 identifies and names other assessment models. There is norm-referenced and vs. criterion-referenced where the former compares student progress to other students in the class or school and the latter compares student progress to criterion or standards. Diagnostic assessment is a different function for formative assessment in that it is used to identify problems and learning difficulties with the student. This of course can be used for other reasons as well and is normally seen as a way to ‘place’ students into their classes. If you’re familiar with GL Assessment and Cognitive Abilities Testing (CAT), you know that many schools use it to identify strengths and weaknesses, and even so far as to ‘predict’ the outcome on GCSE exam scores. The CAT exam ranks students in accordance with other students their age and attempts to give a single ranking identifier to ‘label’ the student. This assessment can easily be used wrongly in that it is used to actually identify the student instead of shed light on their learning aptitude. A recent article in the Sunday Express states that “…the problem is that some schools take them too seriously, argues Kate Fallon from the Association of Educational Psychologists”2

Some other assessment models to note are formal and informal, with the former meaning that it is an assessment to be announced to students and something to which they can prepare, and informal being constant (sometimes spontaneous) observations and gaining feedback from the class. Objective and subjective assessment models are interesting to note as many external exam boards are objective with multiple choice tests and marking schemes. This raises the question, however, does the fact that a certain student gets a high score on an objective assessment mean that he or she has learned something? What about with subjective assessments?

The last assessment models to note are process and product as they pertain to what is being evaluated – the process of the learning or what is actually being produced. This will normally depend on the outcome and objectives of a certain syllabus. For example, a Science teacher may want to assess the process of proving or disproving a hypothesis while an Art teacher may want to assess the artwork produced by the student. Both models are certainly valid and can take the form of formative or summative assessment types.

I have never been a fan of exams. I know that many student don’t do well on the exam simply because they are being faced with the task of taking an exam. In my own class, I set weekly formative assessments using Google Forms. This helps create a regular pattern of assessing where the students can know what to expect and when. It also gives me as a teacher a consistent stream of data with which to improve the teaching in my classroom and adapt future lessons to the needs of the students.

Unfortunately, many of us are ‘stuck’ in systems where we must offer exams or we must give assessments in a certain way. The real problem, I believe, with school system assessing is not the mode in which it’s given but rather what is being done with the data. It may be safe to say that much of today’s exams are given because it’s part of the process and it’s just what the school does. It isn’t too difficult, though, for a teacher stuck in such a system to extract data that is collected from these assessments and use it for the greater good, whether just in the classroom or even across a section of the school.

What data is collected and what schools are doing with the data is what’s important to consider here, and it’s something that we, as teachers, need to constantly think about as we’re planning our lessons and preparing for the future. After all, we are preparing learners for their future careers, not for them to take exam, and we should act like it.

Notes

  1. Kyriacou, Chris. Essential Teaching Skills. 2nd ed. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes, 1998. Pages 107-108.
  2. http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/457030/Expert-opinion-on-computerised-testing-in-British-schools

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