Good Assessments Support and Increase Learning.
Updated: Aug 18
Many people believe that the gold standard for analyzing student learning is administering some sort of exam and then making a judgement based on the score obtained.Typically, once a student performs poorly on an exam, our go-to strategy to increase performance is getting additional support, most times in the form of extra lessons. Sometimes, this may improve proficiency. However, many times it actually makes no significant difference and only results in wasted money and increased stress for both parent and child. This is because many other factors contribute to learning and achievement. A student’s performance on an exam is just an assessment of student learning, but it almost always fails to make any assessment for student learning. So what is the difference? An assessment of learning is merely a measurement of how much the student has learned. However, an assessment for learning considers many relevant factors affecting a student’s capacity to learn thereby providing a comprehensive overview of student performance and ultimately serving as the basis to support and increase learning. When we make assessments for learning, we need a lot more information than just how a student performs on an exam, which I must add, may not actually be a true representation of that student’s ability. When we make assessments for learning, we examine current understanding, motivation to learn and accountability for learning. Let’s discuss these a little further:
Current Understanding. Simply put, to know what a student needs, we have to know where the student is at. Every good teaching and learning strategy begins with a comprehensive understanding of current strengths and weaknesses. Think of when a doctor has to make a diagnosis, he/she first extracts facts about a patient’s history and does some sort of testing. Likewise, to measure current understanding, educators use diagnostic assessments. These provide us with vital information about students’ previous knowledge and help us to identify misconceptions which may have occurred at foundational levels. For example, your child might have challenges in grasping Algebra in Form 3 because he/she didn’t fully understand the fundamentals taught in Form 1. Sound diagnostic tests can help to identify gaps in students’ learning. Diagnostic Testing isn’t just throwing together some questions from a textbook. They are carefully constructed by educators with both pedagogical and content knowledge. (Pedagogical knowledge is to do with teaching and learning methods).
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Motivation to Learn. As we grow older and endure more of life’s challenges, we tend to belittle the ‘hardships’ faced by children. Think of a time when a child has said that he/she was stressed out and an adult sarcastically responded with “Your life must be so stressful.” Please, let us acknowledge that kids can be stressed by whatever is a big deal to them. These challenges may be educational, familial or social- just to name a few. Unfortunately, these stressors affect children’s levels of motivation to learn. Educators who are very well in tune with their students are able to gauge motivation levels and, with the help of parents, can identify the factors that may be hindering motivation at any given time in the student’s academic journey. It is only then that real efforts can be applied to increase motivation. This is why strong parent-teacher relationships must be fostered. It takes a joint effort to create the optimal conditions for learning.
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Accountability. Learning is a very personal endeavour. As such, the best results are obtained when students are driven by an innate desire to succeed. And this, of course, is only possible when students have a high level of self-accountability. Think of the many times when students don’t perform well and both parents and educators attack them about being irresponsible. But how exactly does an 11 year old develop a sense of accountability and responsibility in respect of his/her education on his/her own? Simply telling the student that they need to increase it is not the move. Educators use an arsenal of tools to create holistic educational plans that foster characteristics like accountability and responsibility.
Learning does not occur in a vacuum. Therefore, we cannot only measure the extent to which it is taking place by solely considering a grade on a test. A test score, not interpreted within the context of the other factors that affect learning and achievement, is probably the narrowest assessment that we can make of student-learning. After all, a test is merely one of the key features of assessment. Our goal of making assessments is not only to measure that learning has occurred, but is ultimately to support and increase learning. A comprehensive approach must be adopted so that the ideal framework can be created to address both existing and future learning needs. And to achieve this goal, we need to call in the experts: our underestimated educators.