I have written some of my thoughts about assessment before, here. However, this is a shorter post, and focuses more on the purpose and definition, than on policy.
Assessment is one of the three key strands of effective teaching (along with planning and delivery). In its purest form, it is the means by which we judge the quality of learning. As learners, we have the capacity to self-assess. Have you ever quizzed your memory? Or proof-read a letter or an e-mail? All of these follow from the processes of assessment. Assessment is part of a cycle – teach, learn, assess, correct / re-teach, learn and so on. Whilst it is not a perfect circle, it is cyclical and the function of the assessment stage is to allow for correction of misconception or mis-learning, and to identify next steps in the learning process. Without assessment, learning can continue, but won’t necessarily be as well targeted.
I suspect that this well-meaning conception of the learning process was the point of advocating every lesson had a plenary session and, in turn, when it was pushed, that every lesson had a mini-plenary or two. The point was to allow students to demonstrate what they had or hadn’t learned, and for teachers to assess their understanding. Unfortunately, as far as I remember, the purpose of the plenary was sold as being embedding students’ knowledge of the lesson through recall which is great, except, as Bjork has explained with his desirable difficulties and spacing studies, recall / testing at the end of a lesson means not very much if we want to facilitate learning over time.
As a teacher or coach, assessment, aids us in discovering gaps that need to be filled, re-taught or strengthened. The best assessment is frequent, so that errors can be corrected as quickly as possible to prevent them from becoming embedded.
Where this becomes more awkward is in its application within a classroom. Schools want to manage performance, and they know that assessment is an important part of that performance as a teacher. Unfortunately, it can be quite tricky to spot assessment taking place in observations– because it is quite possible for a teacher to make an assessment when not even in proximity to the student, and to also not act on it immediately. And this may well be why assessment often becomes marking, or purple pens, or pink highlights, or Post-It plenaries, or VF stamps – all of which present measurable evidence for an observer or manager of assessment taking place. Whereas, in fact, the best evidence of assessment taking place is if the learning is adapted from what has gone before to what needs to happen next to develop expertise.
What assessment is not, is marking, grading or feedback. The processes may well all be linked but they should never be confused. The truth is that many teachers do not see assessment as pure assessment, but muddied by marking and feedback and grading – as do students. However, if we can’t separate assessment as a process, we can’t have relevant assessment activities – they become grading or feedback or marking activities. Assessment, remember, is the process of testing the learning that has taken place – and probably the most objective way to achieve this is through having a test. Once you’ve identified the learning you would like to have taken place, and have identified what would demonstrate that learning (be it recall, application in a similar or primed setting, or application in a distinct setting), then constructing the test is simple. Assess the learning during that test – students either can or can’t complete the assessment – and what can’t be completed provides the next steps in learning.
- Assessment is not feedback, grading or marking (get your school to recognise this – good luck on that one!)
- Good teachers assess frequently, and it is this process that guides the learning
- One of the easiest methods of objective assessment is testing
No 8, Assessment.
Next up, 7: Planning a Lesson.