Assessment in Educational Setting

“Promoting children’s learning is a principal aim of schools. Assessment lies at the heart of this process” (Sutton, 1991, p. 2). In addition, “assessment is placing an interpretation on measurement information concerning a student’s or students’ performance’ (Smith & Lovat, 1995, p. 170). However, the traditional assessment only measure and rank the students’ achievement. Therefore, the assessment has some effects on teachers and students. According to Linn & Miller (2005), there are several effects of testing on the students: anxiety, categorize and label the students, damage students’ self-esteem, and create self-fulfilling prophecies. The anxiety may motivate the students to perform better, but it also can influence them to be stressful. In addition, the ranking on students could damage the students’ self-esteem, because they get the lower score than their friend. Both teachers and students only focus to the test result rather than the learning process.

In my country, the type of assessment which is applied, is the norm-referenced assessment. Therefore, the teachers and students only focus on the score and the examination. It influences teaching and learning strategies. The students tend to remember the material rather than understand the concepts. Furthermore, the teachers focus on improvement the students’ score and complete the curriculum rather than give the meaningful learning experience. There was the case of national examination in Indonesia: some school have 0% students who passed the national examination, some students who were clever did not pass the national examination. The effect is the students cannot get the further education in university. They had to repeat the national examination next three months or next year. As the result, many students became depression, because they felt the achievement through the learning process in the high school is useless. The destiny is only based on the test result within three days of national examination.

In the classroom situation, teacher has to complete the overloaded curriculum material within short time. Because their students will be assessed through national examination, the teacher focus to finish the material and perhaps their students can answer the questions in the national examination. As the result, the students only focused how to remember all of the material rather than understand the concepts. However, the government tried to solve the problems. The new regulation will apply next year which the assessment focus on outcome-based education. The government already trained the teachers on the teaching strategies and assessments. However, the teachers felt that it would be difficult to apply in the large classes. It also time consuming to focus on each student performance. However, the government encourages them by giving them the high salary. Therefore, I hope that through this kind of assessment, the education system in my country will improve.

My Experiences on assessment

Assessment is a part of teaching skill that I afraid. It is not only because of the difficulties to assess many students, but also the fairness to assess my students will influence their learning process. I had some teaching experiences at the Technical High School (STM) and the University. Both these experience taught me to improve my skills on assessments and giving meaningful learning experience to my students.

a. The Technical High School (STM)

I started my career as a chemistry teacher at STM. As a new teacher, I did not have many experiences on assessment the students. Even though, my lecturers taught me the assessments and applied it into the classroom in the field teaching. However, I did not fully understand on the meaning of assessment itself. At the first time, I just applied the summative assessment at STM. I applied the assessments based on the school rules. For example, the summative assessments in the mid semester and the final semester. My students also had to pass the national examination. They had to get the minimum score on each main subject to pass that examination, such as 4.25 in mathematics. I just taught to fulfill the school requirements rather than focus on my students. I just focused to finish the curriculum and assess the students twice within one semester. I did not realize that the inadequate assessments affect the learning style of my students (Parkinson, 2004). My students just tried to remember the material rather than understand the concepts. As a result, most students had the low performance.

In general, as a new teacher, I tend to using technical interest in all my teaching. Even though, I do not like to become a reproducer but sometimes I have to. For example, I cannot change the curriculum contents and objectives. The results were more important than the process. Therefore, I tend to focus on “product oriented curriculum” (Taylor and Williams, 1992, p.5). I had to finish curriculum contents, because my students have to pass the national examination. Furthermore, the principal will force me, because the indicator of “good school” is the percentage of students of pass the national examination. Therefore, teachers only focus on students’ achievement not in teaching and learning process. As a teacher, there are many administration tasks such as created the lesson plans, assessed the students’ test at least 40 students for each class, and class administration. Because it is part of teacher competences. As a result, I more focus on administration rather than to improve my pedagogy skills. It is a dilemma as a teacher in Indonesia. However, I do not want to give up, I can make any changes in my role as a teacher.

I realized that my mistakes on apply all technical interest in my teaching, especially my assessment. Therefore, in the second semester, I applied the other type of assessments. I tried to focus on the varied types of assessment which focus on the learner. The learner centre assessment will help students to assess themselves and develop “ a fuller sense of their own ability” (Fukuda, 2007, p.435). I gave them the tasks such as the written paper, presentation, and discussion. The topic of written paper is chemistry and environmental problem. They worked together in the group to investigate the environmental problem in their society, and then relate the problems with theory in chemistry. Afterward, each group had to present their paper and discuss the paper in the classroom. They were very exciting because they are never assessed through this process. As the result, students’ understanding of the environmental and chemistry was improve. I also applied the students’ assessments through the learning process. I concern on each students’ performance to understand the concepts, such as asked the student individually. Sometimes, I gave the tests consist of the few questions before lesson or after lesson. I tried to create the type of questions which can measure their understanding. Even though, I realized that I still have to improve my skills on the assessments. As a result, they had better preparation before start the lesson. Even though, I realized that I cannot take away the summative test in the mid semester and the final semester. However, I realized that I could create my own assessments to assess my students throughout the learning process. The varied assessments helped my students to get meaningful learning experiences. As a result, their performance was getting better.

b. University (Laboratory Practicum)

During the second year as a chemistry teacher, I got a job as a chemistry lecturer. As a new lecturer, I had the responsibility on the analytical chemistry practicum. I really wanted to apply the varied assessments, but at the first time, I still applied the summative one to assess students’ performance in the laboratory. This is my story when I was a new lecturer:

The head department comes to my laboratory and she tell me, “Uwie to teach practicum of analytical chemistry, you have to use this practicum book. There are the practicum objectives and the procedures. Your students have to finish all of the experiments within one semester. Don’t forget for the assessment, you have to use this card.” I just see the book, the same book that I used when I was a student. I also looked at the card. The same card, (with 20% of pre test, 30% of experiments report, and 50% of final examination), which did not evaluate students’ affective and psychomotor ability. It is practicum, not theoretical in the classroom. I not only have to evaluate my students’ cognitive but also their psychomotor aspect of doing experiments in laboratory. However, at that time I did not have any opportunity to change the methods. I did it for a couple weeks, the same books, procedures, and assessments.

I now use that story as my critical reflection on the technical interest. I did not mind about my students’ understanding for I just required them to finish the experiments. They had to do the experiments using exactly the same procedures and quantities as stated in the practicum book. In addition, I tended to finish the experiments and used the “wonderful uncontestable assessment” card without an apprehension of my students’ understanding. I just stayed in the laboratory and observed my students’ experiments. I manipulated and controlled the teaching environment (Stable & Nord, 1985, p.15) through systematic experimental procedures and assessments. I never asked their understanding of the concepts because of the many experiments to finish in a limited time. The focus was finishing too many experiments within a short time. I did not realize that my target of finishing those chemistry experiments predisposed me to teach chemistry with meaningless experiences. I neglected the value of the educational process and the way of my students’ understanding (Henderson, 2004, p.50) to give them the worth value of knowledge.

In Indonesia, the common perception of the indicator of “a good university” is the percentage of students who have the highest score of GPA (Grade Point Average). Furthermore, most of the employers in Indonesia use GPA to select and recruit new employees. Therefore, because of this, some lecturers only focus on improving students’ academic outcomes rather than on the teaching and learning process. However, I do not want to be trapped with this kind of mentality. I believe that I can make changes in my role as a lecturer who teaches students to become good chemistry teachers, not just giving them good credentials that improve their employment opportunities.

Related to assessment, I tried applying different approaches of assessment as long as those can measure students’ competencies and learning processes. On the practical work in laboratory, the students have to fulfill certain performance criteria (Solomon, 1994). Therefore, I assessed their competencies on cognitive, affective, and psychomotor aspects. In the psychomotor aspect, I assessed my students’ skill using certain criteria of laboratory skills that they have to achieve. At the first time, I gave the information to my students about my assessments. Different from other lecturers, I have my own assessment. I also already evaluated my assessment form through action research. Through my assessment, I can ask them the questions through the oral assessment before they enter the laboratory or give them the complex sample to evaluate their competencies on solving the problems. The aim of the oral assessment is to “discover what the learners know, understands, or can do” (Parkinson, 2004, p.152). Furthermore, “the students need to construct their own learning [and] explore their ideas” (Superville, 2001). In addition, I also assessed the students’ understanding when they did the practicum by asking the questions and assessed the practicum report. The final examination was a performance-based assessment where they had to work in the laboratory to analyse a sample. Therefore, I can easily evaluate their competencies on those three aspects. Even though, I realized that this kind of assessments take much effort and time consuming. It is my story when I applied the oral assessment at the first time:

I tried to evaluate my students’ understanding of concepts before they did the practicum. I asked my student about the function of some chemical substances in qualitative analysis of copper. It is common to research about misconceptions and students’ understanding in chemistry, because it is a real problem in teaching and learning chemistry

Me : Why should we add Sodium Hydroxide to that copper solution?”

Student: “To identify copper which results in Copper Hydroxide with blue precipitation?

Me : “Can we change it with other base?”

Student : “No”

Me : “Why?”

Student : “Maybe we can change Sodium Hydroxide with all bases”

Me : “Why?”

Student : “Because all bases have hydroxide to precipitate Copper”

Me :”So, Can I use Ammonium Hydroxide?”

Student : “Yes, because it has hydroxide”

Me :“No, It can not, Ammonium Hydroxide with copper results in an unstable precipitation, It will be diluted and change to a complex solution”

Student : “I forget, I do not know”

I was shocked that my students did not understand what they did in the laboratory. They were similar to a “machine” that only added the chemical substances without understanding those functions. I tried to ask more students and they often could not answer the questions that related to experimental concepts. In analytical chemistry practicum, most of them did not understand the reason for adding the substances; they would only read the procedures then perform them. Most of them did not like chemistry because of the requirement of analytical thinking to understand the concepts. It was a big problem because most chemistry concepts need analytical thinking. How can they teach chemistry if they do not like chemistry? Furthermore, I also found the same cases when I taught my students at high school, they did not understand why they had to use certain formula to solve problems in chemistry. They only remember the formula but they did not understand the concepts.

The questions that I asked before my students did the experiments in laboratory influenced my students’ understanding. It encouraged them to ask other questions, they became more curious to understand the concepts. It is an important indicator for me as an educator since I want to encourage my students as learners. I cannot give all the knowledge, but if they are good learners, they will be motivated to learn everything. In addition, making changes was difficult for me as a new lecturer. At that moment, I thought that I am not empowered to do the improvements since my fellow chemistry lecturers are my former lecturers and showing respect to your mentors is expected. Furthermore, I gave the empowerment to my students to have creativity to change the methods. “Students’ empowerment through emancipating them from ideologies and discriminatory practices” is the aim of critical pedagogy (Woods, 1996, p. 127). They think critically about the chemistry concepts beyond the laboratory activities. They will discuss with me if the procedures have the same concepts, I will allow them to do it.

Finally, my self-reflection is an interesting journey for me which motivated me to invent other innovations. Meaningful learning, learning process are more important for me. The good assessments could motivate the students to improve their performance. As a teacher or lecturer, I still have the space to shape my assessments. The assessments which help the students to have meaningful experiences in the learning process.

c. The Ideal assessments (The improvements that I will apply)

In my opinion, the ideal assessment has to influence the students to improve their competences to survive in their societies. The assessment can help the students to be the thoughtful people who can improve their world (Superville, 2001). Furthermore, “Assessment is an integrated process for determining the nature and extent of student learning and development (Linn & Miller, 2005, p.27). There are five assessment factors which can improve the learning process which are the provision of effective feedback to students, the active involvement on the students’ learning, adjusting teaching with the assessments result, and the need for students to assess and improve their learning (Assessment Reform Group, 1998 as cited in Parkinson, 2004). In addition, there are some principles of the ideal assessment such as clearly purpose, relevancy between assessment and the performance to be measured, and comprehensive assessment (Linn & Miller, 2005). The clearly purpose has to be the focus on the assessment process. The clearly purpose will guide the teachers to choose the type of assessment and get the valuable information form the assessments. Furthermore, the assessment has to be relevant with the performance to be measured. For example, teachers can not choose the norm-referenced assessment to assess the students’ skills in laboratory. In addition, the comprehensive assessment will help the teacher to be fair to assess their students. Teachers can use the varied type of assessments to get “the complete picture of student achievement and development”. Therefore, teachers should be aware of the strength and limitations of each assessment.

The comprehensive assessments will be ideal to apply in the educational setting. Using varied form of assessment will improve the teaching and learning process. Three of types of assessments will be useful to assess the students’ performance. The norm-referenced assessment can help the teachers to get the framework of their students’ performance. In addition, students can compare their performance with other students. The criteria-referenced assessment can give information about each students’ performance through meaningful information. The students can use that information to assess their performance and improve their competences. The goal-based assessment supports the teacher as the facilitator to help the students to construct their own learning and assessment. Therefore, the students can be motivated to improve their own learning progress. Students’ participation on their own learning process will help them to have meaningful learning experience. Therefore, teachers’ role to vary the type of assessment is very important to improve the quality of teaching and learning process.

Furthermore, the outcome-based education will apply in my country. Therefore, it can be a good opportunity for me to use the assessment which focuses on my students’ learning outcomes. This kind of assessment can motivate my students to be aware of their own learning progress. It also can motivate them to improve their competences through meaningful learning experiences. Even though it will need more effort than traditional assessment, the teachers can get the meaningful information about their students’ learning progress. The government encourage to apply this kind of assessment to create the students who have the competences in their own field and help them to survive in the societies. Therefore, human resources development can be improved through the education.

In conclusion, I will apply the comprehensive assessments to assess my students’ performance. I will focus on the outcome-based education through using varied types of assessment. I will be aware of the strength and limitation of assessments. I hope that I can apply the ideal assessments in my classroom which build the students’ confidence rather than destroy their self-esteem as learners (Stiggins, 2001).

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