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What is assessment?

By Adrian Tennant Adrian Tennant takes a look at what is meant by assessment. Many people assume that assessment is simply another word for testing but this article outlines its role as an important aspect of teaching and learning. Introduction | What do we mean by assessment? | Are tests a valid form of assessment? | When should assessment take place? | Helping students become comfortable | And finally ...

Anchor Point !Introduction

When people see, or hear, the word assessment they normally react in a fairly negative way. It might be a deep sigh or a cry of Oh no!, but rarely will it be a smile or a cry of oy. Why is it that people feel this way at the mention of assessment! I think the first problem is that people don"t really understand what is meant #or should be meant$ by assessment. A second issue could be that they have had fairly bad e%periences in the past and this has an influence on them. And, thirdly, it could be that assessment is often seen as a pass or fail thing & and nobody likes to fail.

Anchor Point "#o$ what do we mean by assessment?

assessment$ noun '() the process of making a judgement or forming an opinion, after considering something or someone carefully I think the most interesting thing here is the word process. The purpose of most forms of assessment in the *nglish +anguage classroom should be to inform people of how much progress a student is making. Assessment can take many different forms and does not need to be limited to tests and e%ams. ,ere are two types of assessment.. Activity assessment a$ /id you like that activity! b$ Was that activity easy or difficult! c$ What was the hardest part of that! d$ Was the activity useful! ,ow! Why! 0. 1elf2assessment a$ 3ow I can 4 b$ I still need to work on 4 c$ I"ve improved in 4 d$ Today I learnt 4 e$ In the test I got 5 and 6 wrong. I"m going to study these for homework.

As you can see, the onus here is on the students to think about what they"ve done. (nlike tests which are handed out, collected in and marked by a teacher and then handed back, these forms of assessment are about the process of learning rather than only on the product.

Anchor Point %&oes this mean that tests are not a valid form of assessment?
3o, not at all. But they are not the only form of assessment. If students only think of assessment in terms of a formal test or e%am then it is likely that they will have negative feelings towards the idea of assessment. It"s also important to emphasi7e that assessment shouldn"t be about how good or bad someone is at a particular point in time, it should be about the progress they have made, the work they"ve put in and the learning that has taken place. In other words, it should be about the process of learning and not simply the results. 8ne thing that is 9uite useful to do with formal tests is to actually analy7e the process as well as the product. ,ere are a couple of ideas that can be used for this purpose.. After collecting in the test, hand out a blank copy to each student. Ask them to look at the test and a$ say how well they think they did on each particular 9uestion: b$ say which 9uestions were easy, ok, difficult: and, c$ say what score they think they got. Then, when you hand back the marked tests ask them to compare their thoughts to the actual test, i.e. /id they get the 9uestions right that they thought they had!, etc. 0. After collecting in the test, hand out a blank copy to each student. Ask them to look at the test, choose two 9uestions and tell a partner how they worked out the answer.

Anchor Point 'When should assessment take place?

The simple answer is that it should take place at every stage of the learning process and that it should be fairly fre9uent. 8f course, there are many different forms of assessment. 1o, at the start of a course some form of diagnostic assessment should take place to see how much students know. This can then be used as a form of ;benchmark" used later on to see how much progress has been made. Throughout a course various forms of assessment can be used, from homework, pro ect work, in class activities to more formal tests. If you are re9uired to give students a certain number of tests each year & say three & then one thing you could do is give them five and tell them that only the best three will be used. This kind of fle%ibility not only helps students be a little less worried but also takes into account that people have bad days sometimes. In fact, we will see this idea of selection again when we look at portfolios.

Anchor Point (Helping students become comfortable

8ne of our first tasks as a teacher has got to be to help our students become more comfortable with the idea of assessment. Because assessment often has a negative connotation and is e9uated with tests, passing, failing and scores, this can be 9uite a challenge. But if we can make our students understand that assessment is actually beneficial then it will make the whole process easier. ,ere are a few simple ideas aimed at achieving this-

.. Talk about assessment with your students. a$ What is assessment! b$ Why do we assess students! c$ ,ow are we going to assess them! d$ What are the criteria used! Are these criteria clear! 0. <et students involved in assessment. a$ (se self2assessment, i.e. ;=an do" statements. b$ (se peer assessment. c$ <et students to come up with assessment criteria > agree criteria with students. d$ <et students involved in picking or designing assessment tasks. ?. Make assessment part of the teaching and learning process. a$ If you can build in a form of assessment regularly, maybe even every lesson, then your students will become used to it and therefore more comfortable. b$ Make sure you include the results of any assessment into your teaching. @or e%ample, if students have a particular problem with an aspect of grammar then go back over the grammar in a lesson making it clear that you are doing this because it was identified as a problem from the assessment. If students can see that you actually take notice of the assessment, and not simply the score, it will become more meaningful and positive for them We"ll give more specific ideas in some of the subse9uent articles. ,owever, the key here is to make students see assessment as part of the teaching and learning process that has a direct influence on what is taught. If students understand that assessment is about the process and not simply about a product #i.e. a score$, then they will start to have a more positive attitude towards it.

Anchor Point )And finally *

In this series of articles we"ll take a closer look at the following areas of assessment

/iagnostic tests Aortfolios B=an doB statements, self2assessment and peer assessment Assessing skills Assessing tasks and lessons Areparing students for tests and e%ams Assessing 6oung +earners