Reflections on Assessment
The influence of assessment in students’ learning and teaching approaches has been recognised in research and different literature (Carrillo-de-la-Pen˜a and Pe´rez, 2012). Based on my experiences as a student and as a teacher, I realise the powerful influence of assessment. When I was a student my learning styles were related to my teachers’ assessment and most of my teachers’ assessment focused on content knowledge; thus I was busy memorizing facts. It was also replicable. When I became a teacher I used assessment of learning which focused on measuring students’ skills and abilities without giving opportunities for students to learn from the assessment itself. I realise that there are possible negative effects of testing on students: anxiety, categorizing and labelling the students, damaging students’ self-esteem, and creating self-fulfilling prophecies (Linn & Miller, 2005). I realised that I became the judge of my students’ capabilities and achievement level. Thus, my students only learnt when there were exams scheduled and only learnt by memorizing. According to Wass, Van der Vleuten, Shatzer, and Jones (2001), it is well known that students adjust their learning processes according to the particular type of assessment used. Consequently, the choice of the type of assessment is crucial and should closely correspond to the teaching objectives. In addition, according to Rust (2002), we should use different strategies of assessment which are concerned with students’ different approaches to learning. Over-assessment or inappropriate assessment leads to students’ surface and partial learning (George, 2009). Because each student is unique with a different approach to learning, each student should have the opportunity to engage in deep learning which can only be achieved by providing opportunities for different types of assessment.
In relation to the power of standardised assessment in my country, Brown (2010) points out that high-stakes, standards-based accountability school environments that many pre-service teachers were educated in evolved out of a series of governmental responses to the publication of documents by a range of organizations and commissions that questioned the effectiveness of the United States education system. The aim of these policies was to ensure that all students attain high levels of academic achievement. Researchers reported that these policies led to students experiencing a narrowed curriculum that emphasizes the mastery of basic skills to prepare them for multiple-choice standardized tests (Firestone, Camilli, Yurecko, Monfils, & Mayrowetz, 2000). Others found that high-stakes education policies created classroom environments where students are excluded from (Haney, 2000) or ignored during classroom instruction (Anagnostopoulos, 2006). Lastly, studies show that having such stakes in place can decrease students’ motivation to learn (Amrein & Berliner, 2003; Madaus & Clarke, 2001).
In different types of assessment, Hagstrom (2006) and Pemberton, Rademacher, Tyler-wood, and Cereijo (2006) stated that educational systems worldwide have employed two forms of assessment originally popularized by Bloom over the past 5 decades. These are formative and summative. Summative assessment focuses on testing and rating of students, and occurs at the end of learning to determine the extent to which learning has been retained and has reached the standards of the student and the education system as a whole (Thurlow, 2000; Hagstrom, 2006; Simpson-Beck, 2012). Meanwhile formative assessment refers to the continuous assessment of students’ progress which is collected throughout the school year as a long-term objective (Dyck, Pemberton, Woods, & Sundbye, 1998) for the correction, clarification and adjustment of information prior to summative assessment (Adams, 2004). In addition, formative assessment can be reflective, student-centred, and used as an ongoing process to improve and increase learning (Hunt & Pellegrino, 2002; Gipps, 2002; Hagstrom, 2006; Simpson-Beck, 2012). Formative assessment is said to be linked to cognitive learning theory (Steadman & Svinicki, 1998). Meanwhile Hagstrom (2006) points out that formative assessment is an interactive pedagogy based on constructivist ideas about learning.
Feedback and grade
Giving feedback and grades is an assessment process which influences students’ learning and motivation. I have included this topic because of my experiences as a teacher. I struggled in giving feedback and grades on my students’ learning and thus I have always wondered if I gave good feedback to motivate my students’ learning. Did my students’ grades truly represent their ability? Did my students’ grades truly represent my professional teaching? Firstly, I shall discuss feedback and then move to grades. According to Shute (2008), feedback is generally regarded as crucial to improving knowledge and skill acquisition and motivating learning. However, giving feedback is not easy and simple. According to Cohen (1985), feedback is one of the most powerful instructions and least understood features in instructional design. There are large bodies of feedback research over 50 years which provide many conflicting findings and no consistent pattern of results (Cohen, 1985) on what feedback criteria best help students’ learning. Rust (2002) points out several criteria of good feedback, which are that it ought to be prompt, encouraging, specific, balanced, positive, general with specific suggestions, use conversational language, provide comments’ explanations, grades’ explanation and a discussion opportunity. Sadly research evidence suggests that just giving feedback to students without requiring them to actively engage with it is likely to have only limited effect (Rust, 2002). Regarding giving grades, there are many are good arguments against them (Winter, 1983: Rust, 2000). According to Rust (2002) giving grades doesn’t mean very much, especially in giving numbers. For example, what does 52% actually mean? A number of students could get 52% with different reasons within their different strengths and weakness. However, students tend to focus on accumulating their average grade rather than on what has been learnt or what is the strength and weakness of their work. Teachers need to question whether, alongside their tendency to use grades to help students succeed in national examinations, as part of assessment of learning, this leads to meaningless learning experiences. So the main question always comes to my mind, ‘what is education for?’