What is the common assessment practice in schools? Teachers give a written ‘mastery test’ daily at the end of each lesson and a longer ‘unit test’ two to three weeks later. And whatever the results of those assessments, the teacher starts a new topic because she or he ‘has a syllabus to cover.’
What has been described above is assessment of learning. The assessment is used in grading and reporting student work. This kind of assessment does not tell us if students are ‘learning on track.’ Assessment cannot wait until the end of the topic. Instead, the teacher should diagnose what students already know and do not know at the start, and proceed to adjust previously prepared authentic learning experiences to enable students to construct the intended ideas/concepts. He/she must take frequent readings (assessment) along the way and these may be achieved through close observation of the students and by incorporating questions which must be answered in the course of performing the activities, among other methods. The teacher must then discuss the answers to these questions with the students subsequently processing and agreeing on acceptable answers. Processing or discussing either their answers or data results confirms or validates correct ideas formed. This prepares them for the next step or activity in the concept development process. Through this feedback, students are able to assess their own learning as well as that of their peers. This is what assessment for learning is all about.
On October 28-30, NISMED will organize a national seminar-workshop entitled “Let Children Shine” with the theme: “Assessment for Learning.” Assessment for learning requires teachers to gather evidence from students regularly to identify problems and offer feedback to help overcome them. Other features include use of qualitative descriptions of students as well as peer and self-assessment. Studies in other countries have shown that lower-achieving children benefit most from this form of assessment, which places heavy emphasis on high-quality teacher feedback. The big idea about assessment for learning is that assessment should be used to provide information and feedback to teachers so that they can modify the teaching and learning activities and meet student needs. This is what is meant by assessment being used to ‘keep learning on track.’
The aim of the October seminar-workshop is not really to create teacher change, but to engineer situations in which teacher change can take place. We know that asking teachers to change their practices is like asking a bowler to change his or her style during a competition. This will be ‘scary’ especially if there are observers or evaluators inside the classroom. But when they are responsible for choosing what they will change about their practice, they feel empowered especially when they can choose among a range of techniques. The workshops will help teachers focus on what they want to develop in their practice and how to enact these in their classrooms. However, if we are to maximize the impact on student learning using ‘assessment for learning’, other parts of the education system must be ‘in sync.’ Teachers need a range of more formal assessment tasks and activities that support a valid and reliable conclusion about the extent of student learning. They need to focus on the ‘enduring understandings or big ideas’ rather than shallow aspects of learning.
It is important to remember that the two purposes of assessment (assessment of learning and assessment for learning) do not conflict with each other. Each represents an important part of a complex system providing information at the right level of specificity for the decision that needs to be made. Together they can produce marked increase in student achievement that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. But assessment of learning seems to be more understood by teachers than assessment for learning.
All elementary school science and mathematics teachers, supervisors, and teacher educators are invited to the seminar-workshop to learn more about assessment for learning. Attendance to this three-day activity will surely help them ‘let students shine.’