Friday, 9 September 2011

Assessments: Where Are We Taking The Kids?

What comes across your mind when asked about 'assessments'?

Well, a mighty number of students and surprisingly teachers too, would think of the less bright side upon hearing the word 'assessment'. No one to blame, no pointing fingers-this is well expected for we are accustomed to the tradition that obtaining good grades for tests or examinations is something not to overlook for whether you're a student or a teacher. Let alone parents.

Defining the key term 'assessment' might clear the path for us. There are two types of assessments which are
  • Formative and
  • Summative
Formative assessments are ways of assessing students' grasp of a content area done at any time, without specific intervals throughout the year. Summative on the contrary, only happens at the end of the academic calendar-may be annually, or at the very end. Nope, that does not clear our misconceptions, just yet.

Formative and summative assessments differs from one another in whether or not feedbacks are given. As for formative assessments, feedbacks are given to the students based on the teacher's assessment on them. This provides students with room for improvement as they will be able to identify their strengths, challenges and areas to improvise. Summative assessments, done at the end of-let's say-year, grades students and unlike formative assessments, these grades functions not as feedbacks but rather a final result that indicates a student's performance. Little is the chance to improve since this assessments are designed to grade, and to only grade will it be of use. To teachers, this means a lot since they will be able to know how much the students have acquired all the way. Students' grades in comparison to one another in a class may be a useful data for further analysis. However as for students, all they'll be doing is to bring home the result to mom and dad, true enough?

Now this is another issue. Have you ever scored so low in your monthly test that you get scolded? Well that brings arise the issue of how people outer than a school community think of assessments. Yes, and I'd like to bring your attention to the previous statement that 'we are accustomed of expecting good grades for examinations'. Why is it so important, have you ever wondered? We love facts. Those of which are concise and are easy to digest. That, I believe, is what these grades and marks do. They provide us with figures that we can easily understand and in return interpret as how good someone's performance is.

But really, what do these grades and numbers mean?

Well, to say, nothing. They don't really mean anything, those grades.

Not without explanations of what A, B, C, D, E and even F mean. We do know that A means that a student's scored the highest of marks but apparently 'the highest of marks' don't really help much in understanding a child's performance now, do they?

A complete scale that comes with the teacher's detailed remarks on how a student performed during an assessment is most helpful in understanding a child's need. Someone could score B in an oral test, and generally speaking B is not the best among all students in the class-but would you agree if I say that the child is not bright enough? I wouldn't! Instead, a clear note on how a student did for prescribed content areas that are assessed in an assessment in addition to marks or grades is what parents should and would gladly look out for. Knowing how their children did in 'communicating thoughts in a group discussion' or 'pronouncing vowels and consonants clearly', if I can take those as examples (I made them all up) in an oral assessment is even more valuable than seeing 'score for oral test: B' on your child's report card.

And even then, there's another issue of normed or standard grading-which is another pain in the neck to think about, when what we've always thought to be accurate-all those grades from final examinations-are actually bound to normalisation instead of standard grading so the cumulative data of the whole cohort's performance looks nice in the graph.

I wonder, to what extent can summative and formative assessments co-exist in one assessment? It sounds possible, but that requires our whole mindset to be shifted into new spectra.

Fair enough for a face-lift of tomorrow's education?