According to Peter Airasian, the author of educational assessment textbooks, “assessment is the process of collecting, synthesizing, and interpreting information to aid classroom decision-making. It includes information gathered about pupils, instruction, and classroom climate.” I particularly like this definition because it is comprehensive. When taken seriously and applied in schools, this approach to assessment produces a significant difference in the way students learn and continue learning.
Limited understanding about the role of assessment in the processes of teaching and learning has created situations where teachers provide letter grades and percentage scores without explaining the former. Parents and students are left to interpret and evaluate how well learning took place on their own. Parents usually end up labeling and mislabeling children as being stupid, smart, or average. Hence the actual aim of schooling, which is to ensure that every student learns, is not achieved when assessment is done in such a manner.
For any assessment to be valid and useful, it should indicate what students have learned and how well they have learned it. Essential aspects of learning must be clearly explained and elaborated. More importantly, assessment results should be used to hold constructive discussion sessions among teachers, between teachers and parents, between teachers and students, between administrators and teachers, and between administrators and parents. These sessions allow everyone involved in the processes of teaching and learning to take responsibility and engage in positive actions to increase achievement levels. Without such sessions, school-wide testing and results reporting are vain attempts.
This is the first step in the assessment process. Most teachers are trained in constructing assessment tools. However, not all teachers know how to construct valid tests. A valid test is one that accurately measures learning. Tricking students with questions that cover contents outside of class scope may sound fun, but should be avoided by all means as it injures the overall credibility of a test. Some teachers feel proud when students fail their test – they think that the subject matter is hard and their teaching is complex – what they don’t realize is that they have failed in making learning happen! Hence students’ failures in tests often reflect poor teaching and/or use of invalid assessment tools, NOT students’ ability to learn.
Testing is just one type of assessment. There are other types which may include projects, oral presentations, journal entries, portfolios, group investigation, etc. Good assessment of learning requires a balanced measurement of performances on various assessment types to accurately reflect the diverse ways students’ master a particular body of knowledge.
Scores don’t mean a thing if not meaningfully interpreted. Every score tells a story – story about the journey of a child in the process of learning. Good interpretation leads to complete understanding of a child’s ability. Sadly, this is one aspect of assessment that is hardly covered in teacher training. It is the last chapter in most assessment textbooks and professors skim through the same due to time constraints. In my opinion, all textbooks should start with this topic. Teachers need to start with the end in mind if they were to succeed using assessment results effectively.
Assessment results are supposed to improve teaching and learning. Teachers should use assessment results to reflect on and improve teaching practices, pupils’ learning experiences, overall classroom climate and how these interrelate. Spending extensive time conferencing with students and parents, engaging in lengthy discussion about achievement scores and presenting definite plans to celebrate strengths and remedy weaknesses are some ways to accomplishing this. Additionally, teachers could report mastery of learning outcomes along with letter grades and percentage scores to enhance parents’ and students’ understanding of assessment results.