When I was in secondary school in the 80s and early 90s there was a vogue term in educational circles ‘continuous assessment’ and the understanding of this was that we would be tested continuously to form part of our final grade. So instead of being graded exclusively on the exam at the end of term, we would have two tests and a couple assignments before the final and these comprised the continuous assessment. But those tests were to determine our grades (at least that was our impression then). Were that true though that would be a confusion between assessment and evaluation.
Assessment measures the degree to which some action (the teaching) appears to be leading to a set of goals (the course objectives) while evaluation measures the degree to which a specific standard has been attained. By this understanding what we received was continuous evaluation.
While assessment is formative (providing constructive feedback for continuous improvement), process oriented and deals with large entities (eg. Groups of students, courses in a curriculum or program), evaluation is summative (renders final judgment), goal oriented and deals with individual entities such as a student, course or program.
Every good teacher does assessment when you notice for instance the confused look on the face of most of the students after a particular session and you choose to adjust the approach to engender better understanding. The snag is being more intentional and systematic about it.
Some practical tips which most teachers can use are as follows:
Minute long essays: the teacher asks the students to take out a sheet of paper and write a brief summary of the concept that has just been taught or explained in class usually around 150 words give or take and sometimes as brief as a single sentence. The good thing about this type of assessment is that it can be adapted to most course contents and its flexibility makes it easy to administer at any time without taking up too much time. It helps the professor keep a finger on the pulse of class learning. This can also be done outside class time (eg. summary statements of reading). Usually some very little points are assigned to this for motivational purposes but then when wheighted they do not affect the grade much as their purpose is to help the teacher assess how well student learning is coming along.
Analogies: having students relate the class content to something they already know as in A:B :: C:D
Student peer assessments: some members of the class can act as consultants to find out from the majority of the class what they have yet to understand as well as which teaching and learning strategies are working or not. The goal of course is for improvement while the course is on or for the next class.
Technological tools: electronic response systems ‘clickers’ are useful here as are classroom management systems such as blackboard or moodle. Of course one can always just make surveys using likert scales etc.
One issue with assessing student learning is knowing what kind of learning we are trying to assess. For example in a basic algebra class the instructor can check if the student can recall the formula for finding the roots of a quadratic equation:
or he may assess if the student can apply it in solving a problem or if he can derive the equation from the form of a general quadratic equation ax2 + bx + c = 0.
In other words the teacher needs to understand what type of student learning he wants to assess.
Bloom’s popular taxonomy of learning would help here:
- Knowledge: ability to recall information
- Understanding: ability to rephrase in one’s own words
- Application: ability to use information in appropriate situations
- Analysis: ability to break down information into components
- Synthesis; ability to come up with new information from data or observation
- Evaluation: ability to appraise strengths, weaknesses and implications of the information
There are many other taxonomies of learning and a concise summary of the important ones can be found in chapter 10 of Jeffery Buller’s Essential College Professor. Buller advises teachers to follow the following four steps
- Identify goals – what do you want to achieve? This could be at various levels, the whole course, section, unit or class period.
- Measure progress – what level of success is acceptable (100 % of the class?) taking practical realities and resources into consideration.
- Develop plans – what will you do if the minimum success rate is not reached
- Implement well considered strategies – what does your assessment reveal about the learning needs of the class and what can you do to meet those specific needs?
Everyone who teaches would do well to include assessment into their overall repertoire. This would include professors, teachers, pastors, coaches etc. After all our students are intelligent human not mere knowledge dumps!