Who Benefits from Assessment?

Why are We Assessing? What is it for? Texts: 1) Brown, S., Race, P. & Smith, B. and 2) Volante, L.*

500 Tips on Assessment

            Sally Brown released an informative eBook in 2004, titled 500 Tips on Assessment which is geared towards educators in the preservice institutions and practicing teachers. This book is straight to the point, as it lists tips for successful constructivist assessment in modern classrooms, with numerical lists. Acting as a guide to new teachers, many points are kept short and allow for direct replication in the classroom. In this post, half of the first chapter will be summarized, including the categories of, ‘values as a starting point’,’ why should we assess?’, ‘what are we assessing?’, and ‘when should we be assess?’.

            Brown (2004) provides sixteen tips for values as a starting point that teachers must comprehend and understand while assessing and before creating assessment tasks (p. 2). Professionally teachers must critique their assessment values for accountability, reliability, transparency, authenticity while creating assessment tasks. The assessments should be aligned with outcomes, straight to the point, and hold up to multiple visits or different assessors. Tasks should also be student centered, they should motivate students, promote deeper thinking, along with being fair and equitable. Students should be offered opportunities to redeem failures, build small tasks up to a final grade, and be capable of succeeding with hard work.  This can be achieved by providing diagnostic tasks, along with a healthy variety of formative tasks, and allowing students to become involved with what they learn and how they are assessed (self and peer assessment). This can be achieved with efficient time management and use of effective staff time and resources.

            Seventeen tips are provided for why should we assess? this is Brown’s (2004) reasoning for how assessment can help students and educators (p. 4). Using accurate and appropriate feedback teachers can help guide student’s improvement, decide which option to chose, learn from mistakes, check on developing learning, and place themselves in the overall class picture. Teachers can use assessment to set standards, get feedback on teaching, provide statistics, and lead potential students to appropriate qualifications and practices. There are so many different reasons on why educators should assess, it can benefit teachers, students, educators, institutions, professionals, and the general public. Proper assessing can be used for so much more than just deciding if a student is right or wrong.

            The next category involves what are we assessing, in it Brown (2004) encourages educators to critique what, how, and when they are assessing with each task (p. 8). What are we assessing? The completed artifact, or how the outcome was achieved? Their knowledge or the information they can repeat? The effort of the individual or the team? How are we assessing? Formatively or summatively? Through multiple opportunities or a final task? From integration of multiple sources or a select element? And finally, when are we getting them to assess? Diagnostically from the start or at a fixed point of time? Educators must consider assessment above matching intended outcomes.

            In the next section, Brown (2004) provides more research into the last question when should we assess? by offering some more advice (p. 10). She urges educators to start early with diagnostic tasks that do not contribute to the final grade. To start early and assess a little instead of a lot. She urges educators to spread assessment tasks throughout the semester, avoiding bunching together on week seven or the last week. Finally, to seek feedback from students about deadlines to find out how to help students grasp main concepts. Overall, Brown (2014) supplies helpful guidelines that are practical, constructivist, and authentic in classroom assessment.

Principles for Effective Classroom Management

            In order to be a successful professional in the educational community there is a requirement for educators to always be motivated to research for the best methods for teaching. Institutionally there is becoming a push towards constructivist assessment, and away from more traditional ways of assessing. Volante (2006) warns that while teachers are embracing these new methods, there is still a large amount of misunderstanding in their principles leading to assessment illiteracy.  This can be countered with seven principles for effective classroom assessment which is student-centered, aligned with clear learning targets, based on multiple-methods, able to account for a variety of student skills, aimed at reducing bias, reliable and valid, and efficient (p. 135).

            Student-centred alignment refers to the pedagogical shift away from the teacher as a director to a facilitator. In this principle the students are motivated to become active partners and become actively engaged in the classroom. Students are held as responsible for their own learning, as should be offered opportunities to assess their own learning. Teachers must be able to assess individual weakness and strengths while playing to the diversity of their classrooms (Volante, 2006, 136). This notion can be tied into teaching aligned with clear learning outcomes. When the teacher clearly communicates in advance what students are required to know, they can become independent learners. Students are then able to engage in self-directed learning (Volante, 2006, 137).

            Part of the reason who a pedagogical shift towards constructivist assessment is so important is because our society is changing and what worked fifty years ago, might not work so well now. With the uprising of technology and globalization, our classrooms are becoming more diverse and so should our assessment. Volante (2004) states that ‘student literacy includes reading, writing, speaking, and listening components” and that assessment should meet that variety (p. 138). Performance tasks could offer a more authentic view of student learning and student skills. Volante (2004) introduces the Multiple Intelligences theory of verbal, mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential (p. 139) to prove that a variety of skills need a variety of assessment tasks.

            While it is important to research externally for assessment is it also equally vital to self evaluate as a teacher to ensure that you are offering your students the best opportunities. Teachers must aim to reduce bias, from themselves and others, and work against oppressive systems. Teachers must recognise the diversity and unique needs of their students, while reflecting on their own biases and taking steps to counteract them. Volante (2004) states that ‘teachers need to provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know” this can benefit the student but also the teacher who can use the results to inform future tasks (p. 141).  Teachers should strive to give clear directions, appropriate examples, and reliable, equitable marking.

            The last principle, efficiency, speaks to the “ease with which teachers are able to design and implement various assessment tools and measures” (Volante, 2004, 142).This type of pedagogy requires a value on students achievement and learning process as opposed to right or wrong answers. However, a common complain among teachers is the lack of time for preparation, a necessity of constructivist assessment. Teachers must take the time to research assessment on their own or develop learning teams at their schools. Volante (2004) concludes with an argument that teachers need to be offered more opportunities for professional development through seminars, and that institutions must provide the space for them to do so (143).

January 13 2020

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