Education and the place of assessments

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Cooper (2010) defines the traditional method of assessment ("assessment of learning") as being created, "primarily, for purposes of accountability, grading or registering ability." Hence Cooper believes that assessment of learning includes "summative and culminating tasks" that give a formal comprehensive representation of work effectiveness.

Meanwhile Harlen (1998) states that the traditional method looked at "past achievements, added procedures or tests to existing work, involved only marking and feedback grades to students, was separated from teaching and was carried out at intervals when achievement had to be summarised and reported."

Over the years teaching and policies relating to teaching practices have been under scrutiny and this has led to "assessment for learning" due to a consensus that "Summative assessments happen too far down the learning path to provide information at the classroom level and to make instructional adjustments and interventions during the learning process." How, what and why assessment for learning was deemed necessary for the 21st century was due to changes and demands by our society. (Garrison et al, 2009).

This dilemma brought about a modern approach to teaching which has not discounted summative assessments but has noted the need for 'formative assessments' (assessments for learning) which embrace a variety of continuous informal assessments with emphasis placed on improving and encouraging further learning both amongst pupils and teachers.

This method not only provides continuous feedback for the teacher but also for the learner. It has helped to 'form an integral part of the learning process providing continuous informed feedback on the quality and relevance' of course content together with identifying the needs of each individual prior to and throughout their learning or teaching journey. (Tummons, 2007: p.25).

Petty (2006) provides a more explicit synopsis by stating that Formative Teaching Strategies provide these three vital pieces of information, often in a very vivid way. Note that feedback does not need to be provided only by the teacher, indeed it is often best provided by the learner or by a peer. This is because peer and self-assessment are very powerful ways to clarify goals, show how to improve, encourage the learner to take responsibility for their learning, and create in the learner a belief that improvement is possible.

Formative and summative assessments enable the teacher to reasonably ascertain good opinions about student learning but what can the teacher employ to ensure the assessments and results are fair, valid, reliable, sufficient and appropriate? (Osidya 2010)

Lam(1995) stated that "a fair assessment is one in which students are given equitable opportunities to demonstrate what they know."

Can teachers teach and devise an assessment to meet with the varying differences between students, their cultural experience, prior knowledge of the subject and cognitive style?

Gravells (2008) defines key words to assist in delivery and assessments:

Figure (Gravells, 2008)

Professor Race (1996) stated that changes to assessments were needed to improve learning. The analogue of 'assessment being the engine that drives learning' was explored with the audience with mixed responses. Responses detailed below:

Kolb includes this 'cycle of learning' as a central principle his experiential learning theory, typically expressed as four-stage cycle of learning, in which 'immediate or concrete experiences' provide a basis for 'observations and reflections'.

Kolb says that ideally (and by inference not always) this process represents a learning cycle or spiral where the learner 'touches all the bases', i.e. a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting. Immediate or concrete experiences lead to observations and reflections. These reflections are then assimilated (absorbed and translated) into abstract concepts with implications for action, which the person can actively test and experiment with, which in turn enable the creation of new experiences.

Assessment should be based on an understanding of how students learn. Assessment should play a positive role in the learning experiences of students.

Assessment should accommodate individual differences in students. A diverse range of assessment instruments and processes should be employed, so as not to disadvantage any particular individual or group of learners. Assessment processes and instruments should accommodate and encourage creativity and originality shown by students.

The purposes of assessment need to be clearly explained. Staff, students, and the outside world need to be able to see why assessment is being used, and the rationale for choosing each individual form of assessment in its particular context.

Assessment needs to be valid. By this, we mean that assessment methods should be chosen which directly measure that which it is intended to measure, and not just a reflection in a different medium of the knowledge, skills or competences being assessed.

Assessment instruments and processes need to be reliable and consistent. As far as is possible, subjectivity should be eliminated, and assessment should be carried out in ways where the grades or scores that students are awarded are independent of the assessor who happens to mark their work. External examiners and moderators should be active contributors to assessment, rather than observers.

All assessment forms should allow students to receive feedback on their learning and their performance. Assessment should be a developmental activity. There should be no hidden agendas in assessment, and we should be prepared to justify to students the grades or scores we award them, and help students to work out how to improve. Even when summative forms of assessment are employed, students should be provided with feedback on their performance, and information to help them identify where their strengths and weaknesses are.

Assessment should provide staff and students with opportunities to reflect on their practice and their learning. Assessment instruments and processes should be the subject of continuous evaluation and adjustment. Monitoring and adjustment of the quality of assessment should be built in to quality control processes in universities and professional bodies.

Assessment should be an integral component of course design, and not something bolted on afterwards. Teaching and learning elements of each course should be designed in the full knowledge of the sorts of assessment students will encounter, and be designed to help them show the outcomes of their learning under favourable conditions.

The amount of assessment should be appropriate. Students' learning should not be impeded by being driven by an overload of assessment requirements, nor should the quality of the teaching conducted by staff be impaired by excessive burdens of assessment tasks.

Assessment criteria need to be understandable, explicit and public. Students need to be able to tell what is expected of them in each form of assessment they encounter. Assessment criteria also need to be understandable to employers, and others in the outside world.