Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Fairness in Assessment

Steve Wheeler's slideshow on Assessment in the Digital Age questions fairness.
In my first post for Purpos/ed I ended up describing the effect of assessment on an individual student - saying that assessment is used by students to gauge their self-worth.
Steve addresses this with a powerful example on a question asked of his teacher by an eight year old boy - how many of us have been through this experience? I would judge that many have.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What is the purpose of assessment in schools?

This posting is for Purpos/ed - What is the purpose of assessment in 500 words....
I would like the answer to be "to improve student learning". But there is not one purpose of assessment but very many.
Assessment is used nationally to categorise learners so that they can have access to further learning,  or to rate the quality of the learner's institution. At this level it is definitely summative and the process is complex and not very transparent, so it is difficult to judge whether either of these two purposes are being carried out effectively.
Assessment is used by parents to try to judge both their child and the school. Parents are often more interested in comparing their child with others of the same age range than the individual progress that the child has made. It is summative, can be formative, and should be ipsative.
Assessment is used by teachers to gauge individual and class prior learning and eventual learning. It should be diagnostic, ipsative and formative. It will also be summative at appropriate times.
Assessment is used by schools to gauge how learners are learning and possibly how teachers are teaching. It is summative on the whole.
Assessment is used by learners to gauge their self-worth. Therefore it matters and will affect the learner’s attitude towards subsequent learning. It is invariably summative even though teachers believe the assessment information to be diagnostic, ipsative and formative.

Making learning real - extreme but effective OBLIQUITY

Please bear with me - I will get to the point!
The issuing of A level results always brings with it a reflection in the media, on their value. For me, this reflection takes place a month or so earlier, when the International Baccaluareate results come out.
How well do these examinations assess (and measure) the real learning that the student has achieved?
How useful is this learning for getting the enabling qualifications in terms of prerequisite knowledge?
How useful is this learning for life?
I read Malcolm Bellamy's account (Education is not about certificates) with interest. In it he questions the value of the A level certificates in terms of learning things which will equip the holder for life in the global village.
Certainly, for traditional "professions" these certificates provide the currency for the next stage. But do they prepare these students for a lifetime of learning and provide them with the skills for life "in the global village"? And what about the many who do not want entry into traditional "professions" - what do these certificates do for them?
Bellamy quotes the seven essential skills that students will need in the 21st century, by Dr Tony Wagner, and these really got me thinking:
  1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
  3. Agility and adaptability;
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
  5. Effective written and oral communication;
  6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
  7. Curiosity and imagination.
How do you teach/learn these skills? Do you take a course on "Collaboration across networks and leading by influence"? Or on "Curiosity and imagination"?
Of course not. 
Schools work on these seven obliquely (thanks John Kay for "Obliquity" and his book of the same name).
We provide opportunities for leadership, for projects in social service, for working together in teams, for setting up the refreshment stall for the open evening, for working at their History but actually also working on accessing and analysing information, for adapting to changes, for collaborating, and so on.
Of course , traditional lessons can be made to work on some or all of the seven points.
I came across the following video on Bellamy's site also, a very well produced account of project-based learning. Here surely is an extreme but highly effective example of obliquity - making learning real... ...and hitting all seven of Wagner's essential skills.