education

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Assessment is a powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning

Assessment in various forms has been in use for a long time, Wainer & Braun 1988 report that repetitive assessment was in use within China from about 2200 B.C. These tests were organised according to the principle that a small set of personal skills measurements could indicate how a person was going to perform. However, within education, there is limited evidence for implementation of reliable and valid assessments of student performance before the dawn of the 20th century. Dochy, F., & McDowell, L. (1997), Newton, P. (2010), Black, P, Harrison, C, Lee, C, Marshall, B & Wiliam, D (2003) all agree that education is recognised across the world as perhaps the most vital public service of all, and that within education, assessment is essential to allow all students to be given the educational support they require, and to allow the educator to determine the effectiveness of different educational methods within the students learning process.

Summative and formative assessments can be identified as the key methods by which teachers and other educational professionals gather evidence of student learning. This does not imply that there should be a choice between assessment for learning (formative assessment) and assessment of learning (summative assessment), as both have teaching functions that support student achievement. Assessment for learning explores the possibility for achievement for learning by the student, and indicates the next step to be taken in order to promote learning through the dynamics of teaching and learning, whereas, assessment of learning shows what has been already achieved, memorised, absorbed and displays only a limited snapshot of the current scholastic situation. With the use of assessment for learning, teaching professionals are able to provide insights into progress that a student has achieved, and how the school and its staff have contributed to this development.

Wiliam, D. and Leahy, S. (2007) indicates that the compelling issue is ensuring that the chosen type of assessment best suits the educational learning goal and purpose of the student. If the educational purpose is to improve learning, then naturally, assessment for learning would be best suited. However, if the educational purpose is to report on a current situation and to compare pupils against pre-determined standards or other students, then assessment of learning should be used. Although some tools used for both forms of assessment may be the same, for example verbal questioning, the key issues emerging from the feedback provided by educational professionals Black, P, Harrison, C, Lee, C, Marshall, B & Wiliam, D 2003 indicates that it is imperative to keep focused on the fact that assessment for learning aims at improving learning, whereas assessment of learning aims at measuring performance of the students. Summative assessment also ensures accountability of educational establishments and the professionals working within those establishments.

Pros and cons

Black, P., et al, (2003) tells us that although assessment today can be placed within these two areas of formative and summative assessment, their definitions may have become confused in the past few years, particularly the definition of formative assessment. Harlen, W. (2004) Indicates that a teachers’ lack of understanding of the key differences between assessment for learning and assessment of learning can lead to confusion within the class room, and hinder educational progress of the student if assessment is not used in the correct way.(Harlen, W. (2004).

Assessment of learning may be conducted by professionals who are external to the school, for example educational inspectors, who may be required to provide a snapshot of an educational establishment at a particular point in time. However, they may not always know or understand the school context and life in the necessary detail in order to provide a balanced assessment. As seen recently with the introduction of league tables (dcsf.gov.uk 2009), there is a high risk of the wrong type of assessment being used to grade teachers, students and educational facilities as successes or failures. Short-term summative performance assessments may fail to take account of the setting in which educators and learners function, leading to a spiral of “teach to test” methods where the lives of students and everyone involved in their education, increasingly revolve around tests. Teachers therefore narrow their curriculum to teach to the test, and school administrators and the general public are becoming score-obsessed.

Assessment for Learning (formative assessment) is concerned with collecting evidence about learning that is used to adapt teaching and plan next educational steps. Evidence about learning is crucial as it indicates if there has been a shift, or not, in the process of learning for a given student. On the basis of such evidence, teachers can formulate targets/goals and are able to provide students with feedback about their learning (Hattie and Timperly, 2007), clearly indicating to students not just what they need to learn, but also giving them information on how best they can learn it, therefore contributing to students’ reflection on their own learning. Recent research on the subject of assessment and learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Black et al., 2002) provides strong evidence that assessment can be used to improve academic levels and standards, in particular, formative assessment where students have a common understanding of the targets they are aspiring to reach and how to reach them can be an effective tool to improve learning. Black and Wiliam(1998), Boud, D (1995) additionally reported that substantial improvements in overall performance, in particular with low-attainers, could be successfully achieved where self assessment was used to encourage learning within those students. (It is commonly agreed that assessment is one of the most powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning).

Both are needed

In a balanced assessment system, both summative and formative assessments are an integral part of any information gathering process about any student. Therefore, if an educator depends too much on one or the other, then it could be said that the reality of student achievement in the classroom is inaccurate. Teachers find themselves transforming their teaching as ongoing assessment reveals how students approach tasks, what helps them learn most effectively, and what strategies support their learning. The more teachers understand about what students know and how they think, the more capacity they have to reform their teaching, and the more opportunities they create for student success.

In a review of research on assessment and classroom learning, commissioned by the The Nuffield Foundation, Professors Paul Black and Dylan William carried out over 250 studies linking assessment and learning (Black, P.J. and William, D1998). the studies showed that ideas designed to enhance the way assessment is used by teachers in the classroom to encourage learning, can substantially increase the student’s achievement. The study also found evidence that the increase was even more likely to be substantial for low-achieving students. The research also showed that improving learning through assessment depends on key factors such as: effective feedback by the teacher to the students, active involvement of students in their own learning, adjustment of teaching styles to take account of the results of assessment, and a recognition by the teacher that assessment influences the self-esteem and motivation of students. However, the research also identified several inhibiting factors: a tendency for teachers to assess quantity and presentation of work rather than the quality of learning, too much focus on marking and grading, which tended to lower the self-esteem of students, and rather than giving advice and guidance on improvement there was a strong focus on comparing students which demotivated and demoralised the less successful students. In this case it could be said that teachers’ feedback to students served social and control purposes rather than helping the students to learn more effectively, perhaps due to teachers not knowing enough about their students’ learning needs and motivation.

More generally, on student motivation, Harlen W., & Deakin Crick R. (2002) carried out the most extensive review of research in recent years on the effect of summative testing. They found that those tests that were seen as “high stakes” de-motivated many students. However, it has been argued that some students thrive in the face of stressful challenges and in fact, external tests and examinations do motivate students to take what they are learning seriously. Additionally, DFES 2007 tells us that the UK government has recently suggested this, when proposing introduction of new tests. (Roach,P. 1999) also promotes the use of summative peer assessment, but additionally stresses the difficulties faced by teachers in learning to relinquish control of the assessment process. The idea of turning over summative assessment to students could be seen as problematic, but it has the potential for supporting deep learning within those students. The value of both self and peer assessment is discussed in Brown and Glasner 1999, who state that students are required to learn by engaging in assessed tasks. Assessment is not peripheral to the learning task or a necessary evil to be endured, It is central to the whole learning process . Assessment, including reflection on their own work and that of their peers, is the learning itself. Assessment should provide an impetus for student learning and additionally a catalyst for reflective teaching practices.

Teacher skills

Therefore, it is fundamental to the development of appropriate assessment that there must be a direct link between what is being “taught” and what is being “learned.” Both teacher and student must be able to identify this link. As described by Lorin, W. et.al 2001, the teacher needs to ensure that the task both in terms of the instructional process and the subject objectives, is relevant and valid to ensure that the learning experience of the student will result in the construction of new knowledge through a process that assembles personally identified content and skills. Therefore, all further assessment may be reinforced by clear and concise classification of learning outcomes by the teacher to the student.

Similar to students, teachers are also learners as they examine multiple measurements of student attitude and performance, as well as levels of satisfaction. As modern education moves towards formative assessment, and students are no longer being educated to perform rote tasks focused on knowledge and understanding, there is a greater need for teachers be supported as they acquire additional learning and teaching skills as creators and users of formative assessment. Bullard, P. and Taylor B.O. (1994) suggest that all teachers who integrate assessment into their teaching do so in order to identify where their students are in their learning, and the steps they need to take for improvement and progress. However, historically teachers were often expected to be passive deliverers of curriculum pre-packaged by a Government department and, or a distant textbook publishing company. The growing movement towards teachers being makers and users of assessment data reflects the shift from teacher as educational assembly line workers, to the facilitators of lifetime learner.

Formative assessment, for example, is assessment that is designed to support learning. In recent years the importance of implementing assessment in this form has come to the forefront, largely because of Black and William’s (1998) frequently cited review of their research and evidential notes. Black and William’s evidence strongly supported the effectiveness of formative assessment and its promotion of learning. In recognition of this fact, over a proportionately short period of time their research has been recognized as the way forward by a variety of educationalists and not least by teachers themselves. This grass roots growth in adoption by the teaching and educational arena was bolstered by research-based principles designed to provide a rationale for classroom practice (ARG, 2002; Gardner, 2006).

In "The Socrates Syndrome - Questions that should never be Asked" Campbell (1995) suggests that true education is a “lifetime of seamless experience, connecting individual episodes into an ever expanding web of meaning, insight and understanding." But Campbell also acknowledges that asking the kinds of questions that make this true education possible is threatening. However, in the eyes of many of today’s educational professionals, an extraordinary variety of classroom-targeted initiatives has been unleashed on schools over the past decade and more, all with the same general aim, that of the improvement of student learning. Assessment by teachers, whether formative or summative, is one of these developments that is considered to offer significant potential for improving students’ learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Harlen, 2007).

Darling Hammond, (1996) suggest that the focus needs to be about helping teachers use assessment as part of teaching and learning in ways that will raise students’ achievement. the use of formative assessment, Sadler, D.R. (1998) tells us that the most successful learning takes place when students have ownership of their learning, understand the targets they are aiming to achieve, are motivated, and have the applicable skills and tools in place to help them achieve success. Therefore, not only are these the most essential features of effective day-to-day learning in any classroom, they are the cornerstone of successful lifelong learning for all students. With this in mind, it appears that the most important message now confronting the educational community is that assessment, which is explicitly designed to promote learning, is the single most powerful tool we have for both raising standards and empowering lifelong learners. The value that assessment can have in the process of learning as well as for grading work and recording achievement has been widely recognised (TGAT 1998).

(It is commonly agreed that assessment is one of the most powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning).

In conclusion

Promoting children’s learning is a principal aim of schools and that assessment lies at the heart of that process. Additionally assessment should be seen as powerful tool for learning and not solely a political solution to perceived problems over educational standards and accountability.

it can be said that assessment is one of the most powerful educational tools for promoting effective learning. It is an integral part in the teaching and learning process across all levels of education. Therefore, due to assessment being one of the most significant and important parts in the future of students, there can be absolutely no doubt that any assessment system now or in the future will have a major deciding factor in what students learn and the way in which they carry out that learning. Hence assessment will also determine the way in which education professionals teach and what they teach. But as previously stated, assessment is not just about grading and carrying out examinations. It is also about building a teaching relationship with students and the quality of the students learning and with that, to use that knowledge and understanding to enhance the students learning experience. Therefore it can be said that assessment is unequivocally one of the principal components of the teaching and learning process. It is therefore of the most importance that all teachers are familiar not only with the technical aspects of the different forms of assessment currently in use but also with their advantages and limitations in the current education arena.


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