Rashmi Chari – Assessment: The evidence of learning

Assessment: The evidence of learning

Ms. Rashmi S Chari, Associate Director, Centre for Curriculum & Research, Bluebells School International

NEP2020’s proposal of low-stakes board exams if implemented effectively has the potential for opening a unique opportunity for reforming school-based assessment in India. Indisputably, the outcomes of learner’s assessment go way beyond the learner and are truly the indicators of teacher competence and institutional quality. By learning to objectively separate their roles as teachers and assessors and making ‘evidence of learning’ the focus of assessments teachers can use assessment data to mobilize an improvement plan that works holistically on learners, teachers, and schools for enhanced learning outcomes.

Assessment has been mis-understood and mis-practiced for so long that during the current lockdown while on one hand most educators were clue-less how to conduct low-key online unit tests and terminal exams sans the brouhaha that usually accompanies it. On the other hand, the Board(s) of Examinations, unable to imagine school leaving without formal standardized tests, are busy in multi-level parleys to figure out the logistics of conducting face-to-face exams safely during the highly infectious Covid pandemic.

Why does assessment always have to be high stakes? Why can’t it be as organic as learning? The mindset, that pressure makes students learn and perform better, cannot be farther from truth! This widely and universally held view is born out of a deep skepticism for joy and fun of learning. For most people, its unimaginable that a child can learn for the fun of inquiry and its pursuit could ‘hook’ them to learning! That’s why for years testing has been used by teachers, parents, and schools to pressurize learners to mug up large amounts of content and strive for ridiculous percentages that are nothing short of a certificate of ‘fake-mastery’!

Purpose of Assessment

Children can never be motivated to learn with ‘threats of failure’ as the ‘role of assessment’ is generally visualized by schools and parents. Lev Vygotsky, renowned Russian Psychologist well known for his Social Constructivist Theory of Learning, had emphatically stated that ‘content is the best motivator’ meaning that if a lesson is designed to actively engage children through a variety of exploratory and investigative tasks, learners would thoroughly enjoy the process of learning and would not require extrinsic motivation like rewards or appreciation.

For long we have understood feedback on learning as the purpose of assessment, what about viewing the assessment also as a feedback on teaching?

Cycle of Improvement

•    Assessment initiates a continuous cycle of improvement in a class and school. The data resulting from it guides various stakeholders either by validating their current efforts or showing them the need for improvement through modification in methods, strategies, and skills.

•    Assessment guides instruction when before planning the lesson the teacher conducts a pre-test to find out what learners know and what they do not know about the topic and uses this data to decide the content. A pre-test also reveals the gaps in each learner’s understanding of the foundational concepts and skills of the subject and gives teacher the opportunity to fill in these gaps and bring all learners to the desired level of competence.

•    Assessment guides learning when teachers do backward lesson planning and decide what would be the reliable evidence of learning for the theme/topic that they are going to teach. Wiggins and McTighe, designers of UbD, strongly recommend teachers to not think as teachers, but as objective assessors while designing tests. They also urge them to design assessments before designing teaching -learning strategies to ensure alignment in all the three stages of their lesson plans – learning objectives, assessment evidence and teaching-learning strategies.

•    Assessment guides student’s performance and progress when teachers share the assessment expectations with learners through assessment rubrics before testing. This process demystifies the test as it explicitly informs them of the teachers’ expectations. Subsequently the assessment outcomes make learners aware of their own cognition (metacognition) and empowers them with insights to improve their performance by working on their weak areas.

•    Assessment guides teaching practices. Assessment evidence of learners is an important data for the teachers to analyze the quality of their instruction. Assessment data regularly coming in from a variety of assessments would be enough evidence for the teachers to reflect on their own practices and suitably modify them to meet the learning needs of their students.

•    Assessment guides institutional effectiveness. Assessment outcomes over a period inform principal and school managements on significant parameters of institutional quality and effectiveness such as school’s vision, infrastructure development, curriculum planning, co-curricular activities, learning environment and need for training and development of the faculty and staff for their capacity building.

Triangulation of Assessment

For most teachers assessment means gathering written evidence of learning. An important question teachers needs to ask themselves when designing assessments is – what are they testing – memory, understanding, ability to apply the knowledge, to critically analyze it in real life context, to evaluate it or to creatively think of new solutions to an old problem? Does their question-paper assess all that they wish to see in a learner?

Schools in 21st century need to develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity in the learners to prepare them for the new world of work. Therefore, with changing times it is no longer enough to have memory-based assessments that only test content memorization.

Teachers need to plan an ‘authentic assessment’ that will test all these skills and reveal the extent of learner’s ability to use them in a real-life context.

Triangulation helps a teacher achieve that. Triangulation is the process whereby a teacher collects data (evidence of learning) from three different sources- conversations, observations, and products. The variety of data thus obtained will be enough evidence on all aspects of learning – knowledge, skills, thinking and attitudes. Learning and assessment will happen simultaneously, and teacher will use a variety of assessment methods and tools to collect data and analyze it with the purpose of enhancing learning.

1. CONVERSATIONS are less formal and unstructured interactions between teacher and learners and among learners. The aim of these conversations is to find out how much has been understood, what are the misconceptions, what are learners’ thoughts about own learning and plans to improve. These are also opportunities for the teacher to assess the use of subject specific thinking and vocabulary by the learner, such as mathematical thinking or mathematization. Records of these conversation can be maintained in the form of informal notes for reference later.

2. OBSERVATIONS happen in the classroom when learners are busy with activities such as individual, pair or group work. These observations literally enable the teachers to see the learner’s thinking in action. Teachers use checklist to document observations of their dexterity and ingenuity in hands-on activities, thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, communication, and collaborative skills. The teacher may also prepare anecdotal records to document learner’s aptitude, proficiency, specific incidents that reveal unique talent, traits, or a learning problem.

3. LEARNER’S PRODUCTS refer to assignments, projects, models, videos, writings, and performance tasks that learner works on and submits as an evidence of their understanding and skills after a topic has been taught.

In Conclusion

Educators and parents should always remember that assessment is secondary to learning and its role is to support the learning process through feedback for improvement. Assessment should not be used to coerce a child to learn and never be allowed to become so important and high stakes in the classroom that learning becomes secondary to it. Such a situation is extremely counter- productive to learning as it destroys not only the learning process and environment but also wrecks learner’s motivation and self-esteem. Therefore, ensure that assessment is an enabling and empowering experience in your classroom, devoid of any performance related fear, stress, or anxiety.

Ms. Rashmi S Chari has been actively involved in the field of education for last 32 years. She is Member, Educational Research & Innovations Committee (ERIC) of Ministry of HRD, Government of India advising the apex educational institution NCERT on ways to bring qualitative improvement in Indian education through infusion of innovative practices and action research. She is currently Associate Director, Centre for Curriculum & Research, Bluebells School International.