The need for New Assessment Forms
Schools’ main role of providing students with the right type of knowledge and skills, through the use of right type of delivery strategies, which culminates in utilizing the right type of assessment tools to check for effectiveness of educational programs, are drastically changing. This is expected because any change in instructional objectives will lead to changes in every other aspects of teaching/learning. For example, since more and more teachers are encouraging thematic-project-based-learning (where students are given a topic on a specialized area and asked to research it, before organizing their findings and presenting their discoveries to the teachers and other students); their evaluation of that particular kind of learning cannot be assessed via traditional assessment forms.
Traditional assessment forms here refers to a host of paper-and-pencil type of tests items that includes but is not limited to multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and short answers. In other words, the more innovative a teacher gets in delivering lessons, the more he/she would want to think about introducing a variety of alternative assessment tools. Obviously, we cannot ask students to work in groups all through the year only to individually assess them using paper-and-pencil tests in the end. If this happens, then there is a serious inconsistency between teaching and assessment, which should be avoided at all cost. First of all, students wonder why they were encouraged to learn together but not tested together. Secondly, since innovative strategies often address higher level mental processes, traditional assessment tools are significantly limited in providing accurate and wide-ranging information about students’ true learning in the innovative contexts of teaching/learning.
Authentic assessment (assessment situated in ‘real-life/authentic’ learning) is also called as alternative assessment. However, it is often misunderstood for performance-based assessment. While these terms are distinct and carry their unique meanings, the similarity in all of them lies in the fact that they move away from traditional assessment forms – hence, sometimes called as non-traditional assessment. The uniqueness of authentic assessment, as the name suggests, is the ability of the assessment tools to measure true learning (to a greater extent, compared to the traditional methods).
If we examine all the forms of traditional assessment that we have in schools, we would realize that they hardly address the higher level mental processes along with equally important variables that make learning possible – emotional, social, and physical aspects of students’ experiences. Multiple choice, true/false, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, and short answer test items encourage rote learning and students who undergo such regiment do not move up the ladder of cognitive development to think for themselves and evaluate their own learning merely because they are not given a chance to do so. In addition, many students get high scores on these types of tests by stroke of luck – I clearly remember guessing answers for multiple choice questions and still not failing a subject. Does that reflect true learning on the part of a student? Definitely not!
Innovative teaching strategies such as cooperative learning, highly effective questioning, peer tutoring, engaging teaching methods, brain-based strategies, etc. have given rise to the need to use alternative assessment tools. However, there are certain points that we need to keep in mind when attempting to use alternative assessment. A failure to adhere to the principles of effective use of alternative assessment will lead to breakdown in the overall evaluation structures.
Points to Remember
Innovative teaching strategies focus on how students learn, think, synthesize concepts and construct their own knowledge. As such, any authentic assessment tool utilized to measure such complex learning is obviously more subjective. To reduce subjectivity, teachers could do the following:
- Decide on appropriate types of authentic assessment tools and define what each one means in the context of measuring students’ learning. The types of assessment tools chosen must correspond to the types of instructional objectives stated. They also need to reflect instructional strategies. Ideally, this is done before students are exposed to a learning theme, not after.
- Communicate these clearly to students and parents. This is clearly an added advantage of authentic assessment tools over traditional ones because in the latter, students and parents are always left uninformed about what, how, and why learning is assessed.
- Most authentic assessment tools are rubrics of some sort. When constructing a rubric for an assessment task, be sure to identify the performance indicators first, and then the performance levels expected on each of the performance indicator. Be sure to weight each performance indicator according to their importance in the overall assessment of a particular learning experience.
- Do not give in to the temptation of subjectively giving an overall score for a learning task, simply because “you are the teacher and you know the good students from the struggling ones.” Follow a predetermined, well constructed rubric and communicate it and its goal(s) to students and parents. Students SHOULD know what they are assessed on.
The Future of Assessment
When schools become places where community of learners group together to work on complex and interrelated learning tasks, old assessment practices would become inappropriate tools to gauge students’ learning. With learning perceived to be more dynamic, authentic assessment tools reflect the nature of innovative educational approaches and are geared toward meetings the needs of more meaningful learning experiences.