29 June 2013

Assessment and me

Finding a Balance
Assessment for me has two sides: what learners need to learn based on tests or exams and the skills that are equally important though less explicit in exam-terms. Whilst these should balance, there is a dichotomy at play.

Stiggens, R. & Chappius, J. (2006) differentiate between assessment OF learning, which maps onto the first point above, and is assessment for grading, reporting and accountability purposes; and assessment FOR learning, which is more the latter point, and helps students learn and become engaged in self improvement. Both are important, though too often, stakeholders want results from external exams and this can often be at the expense of real learning.

Life-long Learning
Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement.
(American Association of Higher Education, 1999). 
Planning must be based on the requirements of what needs to be taught and examined - we cannot get away from this. Learners have to pass exams to get into college, to advance in education. We have a responsibility to be aware of syllabus requirements and assessment criteria so learners are well informed and prepared and ultimately, have the opportunity to be successful. However, as educators, we can be creative in the way we address this, "effective learning requires...a balanced focus on students' understanding and application of knowledge" (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011, p. 5). We have to start not with the content but rather with what we want them to be able to do with the content; the "textbook should serve as a resource, not the syllabus" (p. 9) because after all, a "primary goal of education is effective transfer of learning" (p. 7). We want learners to pass their exams to get into college BUT we want them to be able to use their learning to be successful in college and in the workplace, "the right answer is not the endpoint" (Edutopia, 2011). We must avoid 'fact' or 'rote' learning that does not contribute to real understanding and instead, promote knowledge and skill as "core building blocks for later meaning-making and transfer" (p. 21).

Collaborative Assessment
Assessment for learning happens in the classroom and involves students in every 
aspect of their own assessment to build their confidence and maximize their achievement.
(Stiggens & Chappius, 2006).

Assessment must be a collaborative process where teacher and learners are involved. When I was at school, I never knew what the intention was behind the learning or lesson, why I was learning what I was doing, or how I was going to be assessed. This is a situation one would hope to rarely find in today's schools. Goals must be shared and to a great an extent as possible, assessments should be co-constructed. Rubrics can be developed with and for the learners needs and choices given in how learners wish to demonstrate their learning. If our bottom-line is to enable learners to "perform effectively with understanding, knowledge and skill" (p. 49), we must allow learners to transfer their learning by sharing the assessment requirements and letting them decide how to show they have understood them. 

American Association of Higher Education, Assessment Forum. (1999). "Principles of good practice in assessing student learning" Retrieved October 12, 2009, from http://www.facet.iupui.edu/resources/AAHE%20Principles.pdf

Stiggens, R. & Chappius, J. (2006, Winter). What a difference a word makes: Assessment FOR learning rather than OF learning helps students succeed. Journal of Staff Development, 27(1).

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2011). The understanding by design guide to creating high-quality units. Alexandria, VA: ASCD