I was once privileged to work with a leading authority on assessment. During the time she was my line manager, she was always passionate about effective assessment that would lead to improvements in the lives of all learners. I never forgot her analogy that linked assessment to the curly tailed mammal, “If you want to see if a pig is gaining weight, you don’t weigh it all the time.” In her own inimitable way, she was promoting the notion of reasonable time periods between the recording of assessment information, precisely for the reason that learning is not as linear as we would like.
Working with students, we inevitably note the ups and downs, the forwards and backs and the periods of stuck, followed by the “Aha – I’ve got it now” experiences. Over-recording of assessment will masque the true pattern of student learning and potentially (but) subliminally lay down the suggestion that a grasp of learning cannot allow for doubts or uncertainties before learners move to the next platform of understanding from which they all tentatively step out on the next phase of exploration.
Of course, I need to be careful here and define what effective assessment may involve. Much has been written about this and so I have provided a few relevant links below. I will purposely set aside summative assessment and focus on formative. It must surely be (as the name suggests) a forming of a picture of a student’s learning. In essence, this is simple but in practice, it is hugely complex. In order to form and accurate picture, a skilled teacher will work alongside students, creating a picture of student attitudes, health, external factors, finances, fatigue, prior learning and current progress. An effective teacher or lecturer is aware of the additional features that shape the learning journey. Furthermore, a good practitioner will deftly and rapidly synthesise all of the factors and seek to adjust and maximise the learning opportunities for each and every learner, albeit at different times and in a myriad of ways. Perhaps formative assessment is not quite as easy as it looks!
Finally, assessment should not be “done” to learners but they should be respected participants in the process. Ultimately, formative assessment ought to be useful in guiding students towards improvements and lecturers and teachers towards changes that will better meet the student needs. It is a fluid process of dialogue, reflection and adjustment leading to learning gains. It needs to be useful or else it becomes a meaningless exercise that will drain both student and lecturer. When students are equal contributors to knowledge about what is to be learned and how this can be achieved, then learning becomes empowering and actions emerge from choice rather than limitation.
(The articles below can all be accessed from the University of Dundee library.)
ISSN: 0305-764X , 1469-3577
Cambridge journal of education. , 2005, Vol.35(2), p.213-224
Broadfoot, Patricia ; Black, Paul
Taylor and Francis Ltd
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 01 March 2004, Vol.11(1), p.7-26
ISSN: 0969-594X , 1465-329X
Assessment in education : principles, policy & practice. , 2004, Vol.11(1), p.29-47