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Relooking at Assessments

Assessments are an integral part of instruction strategy as they determine whether the learning objectives have been met or not. It helps both teachers and students in self-evaluation. It also helps answer questions like, “Are students learning what they are supposed to be learning? Will an adoption of another pedagogy promote better learning?”

Assessments and Learning Objectives

Assessment is the process of gauging skills and knowledge with the aim of improving programs and mitigating learning gaps. However, it is essential that learning objectives are decided upon prior to commencement of instruction. They should also be aligned to assessments. Designing an educational program is not an easy task. It involves crafting with the right set of content, adopting an appropriate instructional method and designing an assessment.

It has to be a backward design. Instead of a teacher teaching a concept or conducting a hands-on activity and, in the process, expecting students to acquire certain skills, teachers should first have the learning objectives pronounced so that they are clear about the ways to attain those skills through their instruction. This sort of gives the teachers better ideas about how to design their programme.   

Assessments, Evaluation and Grading

The word assessment is comes from the Latin word ‘assidere’, which means to sit beside someone. Therefore, assessment ought to be about getting to know a student closely to gain information about students’ knowledge and decide what they are ready to learn. The assessment methods or tools used to gain the information should be as reliable and valid as possible, as the correctness of the information will depend on that.

Evaluation involves judging student performances against some specific standards set at the beginning of each course. Based on the industrial process of specifying quality standards, the evaluation process has been widely adopted because it is conceived as fair and equitable in the sense that all students are subject to same expectations and criteria of judgement. The problem with this approach is that it does not personalise assessments; while some who fulfil the expectations are rewarded high grades, those who do not are awarded low grades or are even failed.

Rooted in the similar philosophy, grades are used as a means to communicate to the world what a student knows about a particular subject and concept. This, too, becomes problematic when the evaluation process is not personalised.

Assessment is often erroneously confused with evaluation and grading. However, the purpose of educational assessment is two fold- to identify learning gaps and to think through innovative ways to improve course design to improve learning outcomes.  

Purpose of Assessments

As already mentioned, assessments are a critical part of any educational course. It gauges a student’s present state of learning which helps a teacher to understand what he or she is ready to learn. Thus, it is essential to personalise assessments. Though currently, there is a great interest on personalised learning, personalising instruction alone has been able to find some sort of implementation, personalised assessments largely remain neglected.

Thus, it is important to focus on formative assessments and not just on summative assessments. Formative assessments are a tool to gauge students’ learning progress and provide them with ongoing feedback. This also helps teachers to understand the effectiveness of their own teaching strategies. Group activities, quizzes are some of the popular examples of formative assessments.

Typical examples of summative assessments are midterm and final semester exams, where the stakes involved are too high and thus can never be an effective forms of assessments.

Purpose of Assessments

Teachers Students
Which instruction strategy is working best with the students? How am I doing right now?
What can be done to improve the learning outcomes? How can I do better?
What can the students be taught next? What would I like to learn next?

The K–12 education sector has witnessed  a major overhaul in the last couple of decades. Besides just a change in instruction strategy and educational content, there has been a shift in an overall approach  towards school education. Personalised learning and experiential learning are some of the buzzwords in the current scenario. However, attention needs to be focused on the importance of assessments, how to personalise it, and make it more effective. It is important that educators invest focus their energies into devising great assessment strategies for the benefit of the students.


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