The process of teaching in an educational system

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INTRODUCTION

Undeniably, assessment is considered to play a big role in the process of teaching and learning in any educational system. In fact assessment strategies are used to establish ways to determine effective learning and to assess student progress in learning objectives and learning activities. The use of effective assessment aims at improving teaching and learning methods. Elton & Laurillard (1979), however, approached learning differently and they suggested that "the quickest way to change student learning is to change the assessment system" (p. 100). There is a wrong assessment criteria which is currently failing to address the needs of today's learners and the modern, globalised and complex societies that they are a part of since the learning of students is jeopardized by highly selective and competitive assessment modes. Teachers need to be supported in changing their current practices in order to assess learners in ways that reflect the future needs that will be placed upon them. Students in Mauritius have experienced such change over the last decade as the educational system has been in the process of undergoing a large-scale curriculum reform. Taking into account the increasing criticism in the educational field on high stakes examinations of having harmful effect on student learning and that it should be reduced to a minimum (Harlem and Crick, 2003; Morrison and Tang, 2002; Black, 1998). Black and Wiliam (1998) indicated that formative assessment, if properly implemented in schools, is a powerful means to improve student learning. In the international scenarios, formative assessment has already been practiced in schools in various western countries including Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Finland, Italy, New Zealand and Scotland (OECD, 2005). Notably, the education policy makers in Mauritius had acknowledged the inherent benefits of continuous assessment in improving educational quality as reflected in the 2006 Education Reform. The need for assessment reform in Mauritius has been increasing over the last decades since its independence. The importance of changing assessment practices for improving teaching and learning has contributed to critical discussions in major reform policy documents. Curriculum change will not effect without making corresponding changes in assessment. These changes include more emphasis on "assessment for learning" than "assessment of learning". It is generally believed that "the better the teacher knows her or his students, through processes of formative assessment, the less likely it is that the information is used to inform judgments made about the student" (Black & Wiliam, 2005). It is high time to make critical reflections on the effectiveness of assessment reform on the teaching and learning in School Certificate examination. The introduction of "Towards a Quality Curriculum in 2006" for more comprehensive assessment systems that will impact positively on learning achievement, has prompted educational policy to re-affirm the importance of continuous assessment in enhancing education quality. Therefore, the latest Mauritian education policy dubbed "World Class Quality Education for All" advocates the use of continuous assessment in its education system. The major content of this paper is made up of:

(1) a background of assessment reform,

(2) a new understanding of assessment: "assessment for learning",

(3) the changing assessment practices in schools,

(4) the way forward in assessment: a balance across formative and summative assessments,

(5) the implementation of continuous assessment (formative assessment), focusing on the shift from emphasizing continuous testing to emphasizing continuous assessment.

Assessment System in Mauritius at present:

The education system in Mauritius is based upon the structure of the British education system. Mauritius secondary education has a very significant role in Mauritius education as it is considered to be the final stage of leaving school and entering the world of higher education.

The secondary education in Mauritius continues for 5 consecutive years. At the end of the course, students sit for the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations. The major form of assessment that is employed by the secondary school teachers in Mauritius is through summative assessment. Therefore, the current assessment that is the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations is mainly a summative examination, deeply entrenched in an examination-oriented discourse. Thus the present summative assessment is increasingly used for accountability purposes and is highly formalised. It is used as a measure of the success of a teacher or a school in terms of the progress made by pupils between assessment points. Assessment information is also used to determine:

the effectiveness of the curriculum, any course of study, or particular materials or resources.

the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching, or the performance of a teacher, a department or a school.

This actual form of assessment is on assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. Students are still taught through traditional ways such as drill and practice because the nature of the current assessment that School Certificate students undergo still require rote memorization of procedures and laying much emphasis on presenting the correct answer. The presence of high stake testing usually in the form of national or external examination which is summative in nature has far reaching effects, positive or negative on parents, students and teachers, and the teaching and learning in the classroom. Our secondary schools use what may be termed as the classical approach when assessing their students' performance-one that relies heavily on tools such as tests and final exams geared to reinforce the ability to retain material and regurgitate it for exams purpose. What we are, therefore, producing are citizens with excellent memories but little or no ability at thinking critically, independently, laterally and creatively. In broad, the current assessment practices do not fit the needs and demands of today's information and knowledge societies. Nowadays, the society requires learners to become problem solvers and creative thinkers in all subjects and areas. These needs are not reflected on the current assessment practices for both learners and teachers. There is an acute recommendation for fundamental change as regards to the actual assessment system. Instead of using a competitive and selective approach, the present educational system should implement assessment, precisely more formative assessment. Formative assessments unlike summative, are able to evaluate students' ability to communicate, reason, make connections and use technology, thus making teaching and learning closer to the 'real-world' activities. The most crucial use of formative assessment remains to help learning and reduce the gap between higher and lowers achieving children. This enhances reliability and validity concepts as well as inclusion among every pupil.

SUMMATIVE PURPOSES OF CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL CERTIFICATE IN MAURITIUS:

Secondary education is divided into two cycles. The first cycle of five years' duration, is divided into two stages: students in Form 1-3 follow a more or less common general courses; Form 4-5 prepare students for the Cambridge School Certificate (O-level) and cover both core subjects and a wide range of options. The Cambridge School Certificate (O-level) is a 'high stake' assessment practice, primarily conducted through public examinations away from the direct control of the teacher and the school. In such assessments, candidates scripts sitting for the Cambridge School Certificate (O-level) are sent to the University of Cambridge-an external examining body which marks the scripts, grades them and report back the results to the candidates- usually at the end of the School Certificate (O-level) course. In a nutshell, we feel that our schooling system places too much emphasis on summative which is largely out of the control of the classroom teacher and not enough on formative assessment. It lacks a holistic focus, obsessed as it is with focusing on the intellectual component which it wants reduced to "pass" or "fail".

ANY FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT INVOLVED:

Formative assessment exists in the form monthly tests which are prepared by subject teachers at school. Those monthly tests do not contribute for the end of year examination. Teachers rather emphasize on giving classworks and homeworks to students. Constantly observing them doing any task and then making judgments about how well the pupils are performing the task is not one of the main task of any teacher. Instead, teachers wait up to the end of the term, semester or a cycle to do revision work in classrooms in order to help low performing learners to solve their difficulties in their learning process.

DEEP APPROACHES TO LEARNING:

The perspective of students' learning evaluation has been changing from what we call examination-oriented education to quality-oriented education, whose intention is to develop students' creativity and practical abilities. What is meant by "deep approaches to learning", these are associated with students' intentions to understand and construct the meaning of the learned content, whereas surface approaches to learning refer to students' intentions to learn by memorizing and reproducing the factual contents of the study materials (Gijbels et al., 2005a, 2005b).

Depending on the assessment method used, students tend to shift between 'surface' memorizing or 'deep' understanding approaches. As a consequence, assessment should no longer merely be seen as something separate from instruction, administered at the end of the learning process, but also as a powerful tool for promoting deep

learning activities (Dochy & McDowell, 1997; Sambell et al., 1997). Considering the prevailing current theories in the field of leaning theories, there has been a strong appeal for aligning learning, instruction and assessment. Accordingly, a lot of emphasis is laid on the integration of learning, instruction and assessment. The plea for aligning learning, instruction and assessment, within the context of current learning theories, has led to changing insights into assessment. As such, there is a strong emphasis on the integration of learning, instruction and assessment.

Is It True That Formative Assessment is better than Summative Assessment?

Purposes and Benefits of Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment has been shown to be highly effective in raising the level of student attainment, increasing equity of student outcomes, and improving students' ability to learn. The topic of formative assessment has been extensively reviewed by Black and William (1998a). On the basis of their review of 250 pieces of research literature, they concluded that frequent feedback from the teacher to the learner, using assessment evidence, can 'yield substantial learning gains' (p.7). That is, by using formative assessment methods teachers can bring about measurable improvements in student performance.

Improves Equity of Student Outcomes:

Formative assessment also improves equity of student outcomes. Schools which use formative assessment show not only general gains in academic achievement, but also particularly high gains for previously underachieving students. Attendance and retention of learning are also improved, as well as the quality of students' work. Hence it is assumed that through formative assessment all children will be provided equal opportunity to learn irrespective of their language, gender,religion,sex,orientation,(dis)abilities.

Reduces the Gap Between High Achievers and Low Achievers:

Formative assessment is used to help learning and reduce the gap between higher and lower achieving children. This mode of assessment may be particularly helpful to lower achieving students because it emphasizes that students can improve as a result of effort rather than be doomed to low achievement due to some presumed lack of innate ability.

Builds Students' "Learning to Learn" Skills:

Formative assessment builds students' "learning to learn" skills by emphasizing the process of teaching and learning, and involving students as partners in that process. It also builds students' skills at peer-assessment and self-assessment, and helps them develop a range of effective learning strategies. Students who are actively building their understanding of new concepts (rather than merely absorbing information) and who are learning to judge the quality of their own and their peers' work against well-defined criteria are developing invaluable skills for lifelong learning. This promotes validity due to the fact that multiple methods are being used for assessment purposes.

The rest of this essay will be further the challenges of Formative Assessment, suggestions on ways to improve the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations, 'O' level.

New understanding of Assessment for Learning

Proposed strategies for the improvement of Cambridge School Certificate Examinations, 'O' level.

Validity and reliability issues

Major challenges of Formative Assessment

Aligning both Summative and Formative Assessment

Conclusion.

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