Rose Bard

The Assessment Issue – Rose

Rose Bard

Assessment is A Destination – Rose Bard

 

Assessment should work for learners and teachers, not against them. It should be a compass showing the way rather than taking the role or image of a judge. It should point the way, not be a burden to carry. Unfortunately the latter is the most common view among teachers and learners. One too many people feel trapped instead of liberated, thus the perspective that assessment is there to help you grow is quite often not present in many classrooms and minds.

To prove to you this fact, ask your learners what assessment is, and probably they will use a lot of negative words to describe it or how they feel about it. In order to change such a view in students’ way of seeing any type of evaluation they might have to take, the teacher has to shift her own view of learning, how knowledge is constructed and therefore the very nature of assessment.

We should ask ourselves questions like: What is the purpose of assessment? Is it to categorize learners into those who fail and those who pass? Is it to help teachers see what stage of the journey their learners are in so they can prepare better lessons? Is it to punish learners for not being engaged enough during our lessons? Is it to actually help them to succeed by showing them the way?

Do you ever take the time to explain to learners what you are assessing? The criteria you are using to measure learning? Do you actually give feedback on whatever type of evaluation you chose to give? Do you go through the results with each learner?

A lot of learners complain about this. They feel it isn’t fair. They shut themselves out. They disconnect simply because they don’t understand the purpose. They feel they are trapped in the competition and labeling system. Many along the way just give up. Some may decide to make your life miserable. This might be because it’s normal to react badly to stuff as a defense mechanism. Each context is a context, but moreoften than not, that is what I have seen happening in mine. The more anxious learners are, the less involved they get in the learning process, turning the whole thing into a burden to carry. It becomes a matter of just surviving.

I take the affective side of this matter seriously, and it takes time and strategies to change students’ point of view about what assessment really is. Regarding time, don’t rush. No matter what the system wants you to believe, take plenty of time at the beginning to work on shifting those negative thoughts by teaching students how to learn and the purpose of assessing their journey.

Do not just talk about it. Create opportunities for you and your group to feel that assessment is working for you as a positive tool. Also, position yourself as a lifelong learner instead of someone who knows it all – the expert in English. And I’m not saying you don’t have to be. We long to be experts. English is our trade, so we must be at the level of proficiency that our job requires. Period. But none of us knows it all. And that is what our learners should see in front of them. A teacher is just someone some steps ahead of them, leading the way for them to get to the same point where we are or beyond it. We should hope for that. As I side story, I usually tell my learners that they might become better at English than me. They laugh, but I truly believe it. And when my mind is so tired that I slip with a spelling or put the wrong word on the board, I thank them for helping me. Be kind to yourself and to your learners. Be fair. Treat mistakes and lack of knowledge with kindness.

Our school requires formality, and formality requires us to give grades, but I really think that it is not fair to just give them a mark. Learners should be able to know what exactly we are assessing and why. From class one, I start working on error and mistakes with kindness. Analyzing errors and mistakes is a good way to help learners move forward. Spotting mistakes/errors is easy. Create any kind of evaluation and they will pop out like a big neon billboard. But what really makes assessment shift from summative to formative is the actions teachers and learners decide to take afterwards. Is the error part of the process? Is it a persistent one? What strategies can the teacher and the learner use to overcome it?

Although the literature on assessment defines summative and formative differently, and I know that in nature they are, an evaluation can be both. Summative is concerned with giving a conclusive mark indicating what the student knows and is able to do on a given test. Formative on the other hand is concerned with the quality of the learning and how that is achieved.

I often use three types of assessment: diagnostic, summative, and formative. The diagnostic assessments, though simple and informal, help me identify who knows what. The formative assessment involves for me the diagnostic stage, then further evaluation tasks followed by reflection of my own and often discussion with students about what strategies are needed to achieve a certain goal. In feedback sessions with students I ask them how they did something or what they think was the reason they didn’t achieve a particular goal.  Then, I use summative assessment because grading is the formal aspect of the system for parents and schools and they need to see it quantified.

Still I also prefer to look at how learners progress in the learning of a language a bit differently. Instead of grammar points and vocabulary, I prefer to look at it from the perspective of continuing development in the ability to communicate, and until they become more confident, critical and autonomous, assessment is not just my job, it’s everyone’s job. Assessment is not the destination. It is the process where learning is critically thought of and a new course of action is taken.

 

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Rose Bard

Rose has been teaching English in private language schools since 1998. A passion for teaching and learning led her to pursue a major in Pedagogy with emphasis on Early Childhood education. She has been working as an English educator for the past 5 years for SATC School, a great Educational Institute. She works in the language center department with all levels and ages. She loves learning from and with other teachers. She is also very interested in online professional development and the role of technology in order to enhance authorship and language learning through a process of dialog.

15 thoughts on “The Assessment Issue – Rose”

  1. Thanks Rose, what you’ve written about the beliefs concerning assessment is so striking. These false beliefs are so deep in my teaching environment that I admit I have actually been trying to avoid assessment altogether as I feel it is more detrimental than helpful in this sense (of being rather a series of judgements than a series of signposts.)

    1. Thanks Barbara for all the support but I couldn’t be writing this piece from experience if it wasn’t from the strength I got from you all. One thing is to know theory and know what is beneficial for learning, another thing is putting it into practice. I have read the most well-known educators in Brazil on this topic and I have their books on my shelf to support this view, but it wasn’t easy to make the shift myself. And I bet for many teachers it feels like an utopic reality. It is the same here. The system makes us believe that there is no other way. But I have read about projects around my country where learning became the focus and assessment was totally innovative. I think the main problem is not just the school but also society like Shahram explains below that pushes education to be about ranking not learning.

  2. Hi
    Informative!
    It would be a good idea to make a distinction between process and product in testing. Many educators, teachers, and parents in traditionally oriented societies think of assessment as an instrument to make judgments about students. Important decisions are made on the basis of the results obtained from tests (mainly quantification). Even teachers are promoted on the basis of quantified scales. Parents take pride in the fact that their children got very high grades on the tests. However, they never think of how those grades were obtained. There is not much room for the qualitative aspect of assessment (process).

    1. Shahram thanks for reading and commenting. I totally agree with your comment and it saddens me to see this reality. I’m glad though that not everyone think like this and that some even if it is a slow process might fight for change. I certainly won’t give up.

  3. Dear Rose,
    Your kind and considerate personality shines through every line!
    I agree with what you say, and thanks to circumstances ( working in a very relaxed school with a lot of freedom) I can implement many helpful, constructive techniques when it comes to assessment. However, the factory like school system that still prevails won’t let many teachers who would agree with you do walk their talk, and that’s what I find the big and worrying issue. How and when could change come about??
    Till the magic day comes at least there are teachers like you who show kids that another way of learning is possible

    1. Sirja you are always so nice to me. Thanks for your kind words.

      I totally understand the point you are making and I agree that it is not easy to work in a place where the system still prepare for exams and leave no much room for alternative practice. I must be very stubborn because I have been in situations where I could have even been fired. But thank God, I wasn’t. So here is a bit more of my personal story when comes to assessement.

      I’ve had my share of stress because of trying to change, and at times it felt like I was playing with fire, but then there have been so much possitiveness to it that I just can’t let it go.

      One thing I always tried was to make sure that I had covered all bases. For example, school expects us to apply formal tests. Instead of two or three, I apply only one. By formal testing, I mean paper test (like vocabulary, grammar, skills based, for example). I try every opportunity I get to include other types of evaluation that can work also as sumative to abide to school policy in testing. They understand better when there is a number attached to it. But I opt for different formats, like projects.

      Once, back in 2011 there was a project called “the city guide project” where I had trouble with one of the students that got mark 0 in the second part of the project. His mom was furious and called my boss, and thank God that week was the week they were going to fill the self-evaluation form. By the time I had to meet the mom, I had most of the forms filled. His explanation for not doing anything in the second part of the project was numerous. All of which I had covered in my self-evalution form. All the things he had told his mom that could get me in serious trouble had been answered by me showing her the answers of the other students. Things like whether or not I explained well, if I had offered support and so on. All students answered those questions positively. Imagine if I hadn’t added the self-evaluation form to the equation! At the end I felt really sorry for the mom. She was embarrased. But I assured her that all I was doing was in her son’s best interest and she even bought him a tablet to use in class whenever he needed to learn anything for our projects.

      Let me also tell you that after my DOS got the phone call from the mom I had to explain myself to her, I felt bad and upset for having to do that, but then I thought to myself… what a great opportunity. I have nothing to fear. Not doing anything wrong here. (apart from changing the assessment system a bit!)

      Sirja, I have learned so much and I try to avoid any shortcoming when choosing a different format to evaluate students progress. It took years before I could start changing the assessment system in my classes. It was a huge step for me. And I was so scared at first. Like I said, It could cost my job. But I’m so glad I did it.

      How and when will it change?

      One class at the time. Inspiring and supporting each other.

      I like what Luke wrote here,
      http://itdi.pro/blog/2014/04/12/more-on-assessment-luke/

      “There is a pedagogical issue: this is where we can make a difference on a day-to-day level. Formative assessment offers a route to dialogue with students and parents as project work is assessed and the results shared on a regular, not occasional basis. We can make our own tests, and ask our students to get involved. And we can make sure we step back from the test – which may help when it comes to the exam.”

  4. At schools in my country summative formative diagnostic are the rules of assessment. This is easy way for teachers. I teach at the University. Thete we use grade As you mentioned learners dont think this assessment fair in nany times. Sometimes We have a way of assessment which is called “colloquium” It holds 3 times a term And 5free works regarding on a subject Somehow it helps learners to see their level

    1. Hi Kamala,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I’d love to hear more about the type of assessment you mentioned “colloquium”. Assessment is a tool to help us see where we are in the process, but perhaps the main difficult we have is to actually create tests that really will meassure progress. It’s not easy though to do that. A grammar test doesn’t prove anything. A vocabulary test doesn’t prove much either. Yet, we insist in using them as the only source to help them see progress. Besides where I am in my journey to learn another language depends largely of the objectives. Is it to take exams or talk about various subjects? Is it to read articles in university (like in my country, they have to and they don’t have to write or speak in English)? Is it to read and write emails? Is it to take part in meetings in English, talk on the phone, write emails? Is it to understand movies and songs? It’s kind of trick, isn’t it, to pin down the objectives in order to achieve a certain goal and as we can’t, we ended up trying to give them a bit of everything to help them get there.

  5. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. I appreciate very much the initiative you took and the courage you showed to adopt new ways of assessment with your students rather than taking for granted the ones established by the educational system. Unforgunately, it is another big challenge that teachers have to face and to find creative ways so as to overcome it. You personal story with assessment -thanks for sharing- is really inspiring, but I wonder how many of us, teachers, can indulge into such an experience bearing in mind that “it is not easy to work in a place where the system still prepare for exams and leave no much room for alternative practice.”
    Regards,
    Samir

  6. Yes, Assessment is not to penalize or to humilate sutdents into thinking that they are worse than other, positive emotions should be created, as assessment is done to see where we have to improve together as students and teachers. It is an inspiring act that has lost its value to the higer IQ process which has been proven as not to de determiner in forming successful personnel in time as many high IQers are not open to taking risks and ventrue on new things that beat their common understanding. So assessment should be explained to the learners as being something to measure our needs fro improvement and not for passing grades necessarily.

  7. Dear Rose,
    This viewpoint toward assessment ought to be understood and followed by all teachers who care about students’ growth. By understanding that assessment should serve students toward more autonomy, confidence, more development because of their awareness of the criteria and rubrics of assessment. Often a single test is not enough to evaluate a learner’s ability, as well as a single shot cannot show all the physical features of a person throughout his life. I just want to emphasize the importance of allowing for multiple measures assessment, or alternative forms of assessment.

  8. Rose, it was a pleasure for me to read your article. I completely agree with you. Teachers are learners too. And we can’t say that we know completely everything. When I was a student at university we had “political discussion” classes and the teacher was a Professor. She was strict and every time someone made a mistakes, she was yelling at us, that we were all stupid, and we should have become cleaner instead of applying the university. I was preparing for her classes for a week translating some articles, learning vocabulary, or writing answers to her questions. At the lesson she asked one student to come to the board and she gave a sentences from “Moscow news” daily newspaper, and that student translated it into Russian. If a student gave a wrong translation, translation which wasn’t close to hers, or not a precise translation, she started shouting and yelling again.
    When I became a teacher I never yelled or shouted at my students. I love all my students, and try to help them make their progress in English. When they make mistakes I use different “error correction techniques” which are appropriate for a certain situation, because “cold” correction doesn’t often motivates students.

  9. Yes, I agree with you. The students should know about their errors and mistakes. Before assessing the students, I usually tell them which areas that they’re going to be assessed so they can be prepared. And at the end of the activities, I ask them for their opinions about their own performances first before I give feedback to them. That way they can evaluate their own progress.

  10. Rose,
    I agree that assessments are simple elements that allow teachers and students to find out where we are in our learning/teaching. I believe that it is only a part of the students’ learning. I like the idea of teaching and evaluating the whole student. I am new to teaching English for native English speakers. This is the beginning of my second year. I have found that although native E speakers have more familiarity with the language, they are equally learning many elements about the language for the first time. So, for every assignment, I give my students verbal feedback and written feedback. For instance, I like to write comments on their writing assignments but I still give them verbal praise. For their oral presentations, I have a rubric that I use to facilitate feedback:). This provides them with suggestions and praise where they can refer to it later.

    Like you, I love teaching. As a reflection, I am supplying my arsenal with blogs and iTDi…so that I can stay fresh.:)

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