In order to ensure that today’s learners are fully prepared for stepping out into the world as functional and well educated adults, it is important to remain continually aware of how well they are doing in school. This means that, one way or another their ability and knowledge needs to be assessed on an ongoing basis. But are exams really the best ways to test students?
Here are some of the reasons for Assessment:
Classify or grade
Facilitate choice of options
Diagnose faults and rectify mistakes
Provide statistics for the course or institution
Enable grading or final degree classification
Add variety to learning experiences, and add direction to teaching
What is the purpose of assessment?
Assessment is instrumental in ensuring that learning is taking place. It indicates that the learners have taken on board that which they have been taught and that they understand and can use their new knowledge. Assessment allows the teacher/facilitator to make sure that their teaching methods are effective in that good pass marks in assessment should indicate that the learners have learnt the required tasks.
Assessment gives the learners something to work towards which gives them motivation to learn the material. It is important in establishing whether or not a learner knows enough to be promoted to the next level or to be awarded a degree/diploma/certificate. Assessment is the culmination of the work on a topic and lets the learners know how well they are doing or have done on a course.
What assessment strategies exist?
There are a variety of different ways in which assessment can be conducted and deciding which type to use depends very much on:
1. what is being assessed
2. who is being assessed and
3. what the results of the assessment need to indicate
For example it would not be effective to ask someone in a painting assessment to write an essay about how they would paint something, if the assessment is to test their ability to actually paint.
Assessment strategies include tests, performance based assessment, interviews, questionnaires, structured questions, assignments, case studies, practical exercises/demonstrations, projects, role-plays, simulations, aural/oral questions, observation and self-report assessment.
The assessment used must be congruent with what needs to be tested. It needs to be correctly directed at the learners who are taking it insofar as language ability, knowledge, age appropriateness and learning outcomes are concerned. In order for an assessment to be valid it must test what it sets out to test and it must do so in the same way for all learners.
How an assessment is structured is dependent on what it needs to test and what types of results are required, for example if learners are being tested against each other for ability/speed etc. or whether they are being tested on their individual ability to perform a certain task or to show certain knowledge.
Assessment is an important part of learning as, without it, there would be no yardstick for how much a learner has learned from a task, or whether the teaching methods are effective. What is important when setting an assessment is to remember that learners learn in different ways and respond to testing in different ways. All the different types of learner have the ability to prove that they have mastered the knowledge or skill but not necessarily in the same way. This means that different types of assessment should be used at different stages to allow for learner differences.
In order to choose the best assessment strategy:
1. Carefully go through the criterion to be tested and ascertain what the outcome of the assessment ought to be.
2. Look at what the learners need to prove by completing the assessment such as whether or not they are faster than their peers, or whether they can perform certain mathematical problems without help.
3. Look at the different ways in which they could be effectively tested on it, in a manner that would indicate that learning has taken place, that would give some guide as to how effective the teaching methods have been and which would show a grading scale of ability/knowledge so the teacher/facilitator would know who needs more help and who has mastered the topic fully.
4. Go through all the possible alternatives of assessment and decide which method/methods would give the most valuable information regarding the learning outcomes.
5. Check back to the original criteria to ensure that the assessment chosen adequately tests what it needs to and that the outcomes are valid.
Taking into account the fact that there are so many different types of learners with different strengths and weaknesses, it is important to use a number of different methods to test students rather than relying on exams only as the preferred method of assessment.