Importance Of Assessment For Learning And Development In Children
Assessing children's learning and development is essential and critical. But, what is the purpose of assessment in learning? A well-known principal from a top school in Bengaluru shares his views.
By Venkata Suresh Lolla
The importance of assessment for learning is well understood. However, the word ‘assessment’, commonly misinterpreted as ‘exams’, is loved only by a few students. For most, it is a nightmare, especially in the first three months of a school term.
‘Assessments’ and ‘exams’, as society and schools understand them today, only make children edgy, adding to their phobia and biases, and even causing withdrawal from the society. Depression in teenagers and suicidal tendencies are a fallout of this system of assessment in schools. So, what’s the right ‘assessment’ of evaluation tools?
There are many types of evaluation tools — Benchmarks, Assessments, Tests and Scores. Each of these tools cannot be dealt with in isolation. They are a collective and cohesive package for evaluating acquisition of knowledge and achievement of learning goals for all stakeholders in a school — students, teachers and management.
Importance of assessment for learning
Assessment in schools and colleges is an integral part of learning. Over time, educators came up with various tools for assessing children's development and learning. This helped fine-tune the educational process and make it better. Let’s delve a little deeper and understand the importance of assessment in the teaching-learning process.
Purpose of assessments
Evaluation and assessments should be holistic in nature. The true aim of assessments should be to provide the necessary support for an individual to understand his or her potential. These assessments must be done periodically in different forms, using different tools, to check the progress and identify the gaps in a student’s learning. They should provide a child with a road map for progress and success.
Assessments can be used for —
- internal student evaluation
- external benchmarking
Internal assessments can be summative or formative. Tests or exams that assess a child’s learning after a specific term, a concept, or a set of chapters, are called summative assessments. Whereas, formative assessments such as projects, quizzes, class discussions and homework are used to continuously assess the child’s understanding of a concept or a particular subject. This type of assessment will help the teacher customise her teaching to suit the requirements of her students.
External benchmarking assessments, on the other hand, are used by schools to compare their students’ learning and progress with that of students in other schools across the country or even globally. The schools then use the results of these benchmarking assessments to enhance their own curriculum, teaching methods, and teacher development programmes.
Exams as assessment
In the current scenario, assessments through exams (board examinations for grades 10 and 12) are nothing more than paper and pen skills tests that last for about 2 to 3 hours. These exams are mostly a test of the student’s memorising abilities. The student is compelled to respond to a set of questions by pouring out his thoughts or knowledge for which he is awarded a grade.
Paper and pen assessments at the end of the year mainly test theoretical knowledge. They do not test an individual’s application of knowledge through hands-on activities or the use of design. Neither do they test creativity and higher order thinking skills. This system awards marks or grades.
It doesn’t reflect the achievements or challenges faced by students while learning the concepts. This exam system has become more of a judgment of a child’s ability, rather than a true measurement of his progress and learning.
If we observe closely, we would realise that this system only provides a view of the child’s ‘attainment data’. The system completely fails to measure the progress made by a student in acquiring knowledge and skills over time. Every year, in school, a student takes an exam to assess what she has learnt. She then moves to the next grade. But, the system doesn’t measure the child’s gaps in learning, nor does it assess if the child has met her learning goals before moving on to the next level.
Assessments to meet learning goals
Teachers usually spend a lot of time planning what and how to teach in a class, whereas the prime focus should be on understanding the baseline of the students. Baseline information may be inferred through internal assessment data or external benchmarking.
Once a teacher is fully aware of where her students are placed, she can effectively plan a lesson at the micro level. Students enjoy such lessons, which are tailor-made to address their needs.
Projects and group work can be assessed through rubrics, which is a written set of criteria that tells students what is expected of them to get particular grades on their assignments. This provides students with a clear understanding of the expectations, while also providing a feedback on their achievements.
Knowing the accurate baseline of a student helps the teacher easily set target scores for each student, which can be achieved with minimal effort. This can decrease the stress levels of the students, staff and parents.
As we can see, an effective teacher frequently assesses the learning of her class and tries to ensure that all students learn.
To summarise, assessments should be learning-focussed, where students are able to apply their analytical skills to solve real-world issues, using integrated knowledge, skills and values. This, in turn, will enable teachers and schools to understand the gaps in a child’s learning and provide a path for the child to progress and succeed.
Fortunately, nowadays, there are several assessment tools available to help the teachers and parents understand the gaps in a child’s learning, and to measure the progress and achievements of a child. Some of these tools are:
- Australian Council for Education Research (ACER): Provides a benchmarking assessment, which helps schools measure the progress in students’ skills in subjects like English, Science and Mathematics. This assessment provides details of performance in sub-skills and shows students’ progress over time. This information is very helpful to students as well as teachers. Comparison of individual scores with those of peers, other schools and international students, is one of the best ways to benchmark performance.
- Callido: This is an interesting individual assessment tool which can be used for enhancing the 21st century skills. In this, after a brief baseline assessment, students obtain feedback on their strengths and challenges in skills related to critical thinking, problem-solving and communication. Students go through many problem-solving tasks and, in the process, strengthen their skills in a targeted manner.
- Others: ASSET, NTSE and Olympiads are some of the other evaluation tools that are also quite popular.
Using benchmarking tools to achieve learning goals
Reports from International Benchmarking Tests (IBT) like ACER help school leaders plan curriculum, timetables and teaching methods, apart from a need-based Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for teachers. Once the strengths and challenges of students’ learning and progress are identified, school leaders can allocate more time for the subjects where certain skills need reinforcement. Trends in students’ progress over time shows the school where the school team is heading. Let’s take a couple of examples to see how this works.
Example 1: Sometimes, we see that students from a certain class, say grade 3, have challenges in using punctuation while writing sentences. This is observed while reviewing the results of the ACER IBT when the class percentile is less than the national or the international benchmark. The school leader can then direct the Head of Department to plan a curriculum which focusses on punctuation in every lesson. If necessary, the number of periods may be increased. Care must be taken to arrange a few higher order tasks for the gifted learners to ensure the needs of all students are met.
Example 2: It is also common to notice gaps in spatial skills in mathematics. Usually, spatial skills become important in secondary school in the Indian curricula. Some of these gaps arise due to inconsistency in planning or enriching the curriculum at the primary school. ACER IBT reviews help the schools understand these gaps. If a class is consistently failing to achieve targets over time, then the curriculum needs to be modified in a significant way.
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About the author:
Written by Venkata Suresh Lolla on 22 November 2018. Last updated on 7 February 2020.
Venkata Suresh Lolla is the principal of Global City International School, Bengaluru.
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