Let’s re-think assessments!

Sanjhee Gianchandani

Assessments form an intrinsic part of an educational framework as they help determine whether the end goals are being met or if modifications are required in the teaching approach and provide diagnostic feedback and evaluate students’ progress. The last decade of the 21st century has witnessed a gigantic alteration in the way assessments are designed and executed in classrooms.

This reform in assessments has its roots in the changing nature of educational goals in alignment to the demands of a workplace in the fourth industrial age, the symbiotic relationship between teaching-learning and assessments, and the limitations of the existing assessment practices.

The changing nature of educational goals
Educators, school administrators, policy makers and leaders across the world recognize the fact that the learning outcomes of today must reach beyond the traditional domains of the subject-areas and aim towards developing a broad array of academic as well as non-academic competencies which are pertinent in order to survive in the modern workplace. Consequently, there is an increasing focus on including 21st century skills, project-based learning, continuous review processes, extensive use of technology, life skills, blurring of rigid boundaries between streams, multi-lingualism, and adopting cross-curricular pedagogical approaches across all curricula in the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.

Addressing students at the School Education Conclave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the changes that NEP 2020 will bring. ‘The new National Education Policy aims at making the country an equitable and vibrant knowledge society. It envisions an India-centred education system that will contribute directly to transforming the country into a global superpower,’ the prime minister said.

The relationship between teaching-learning and assessments
Another factor contributing to the need for a reorganization of assessment strategies involves the relationship between assessments and the processes of teaching and learning. Behavioural theories that characterize learning as the accumulation of discrete skills have become outmoded in this day and age and have given way to a conception of learning and teaching based on cognitive psychology. The learners of today gain understanding not by regurgitating bits of mugged up information during examinations but by constructing their own knowledge base and by developing their own mind maps of inter-connectedness between facts and concepts.

This holistic view of learning is reflected in contemporary instructional methods such as the activity-based ‘hands-on, minds-on’ approaches in science; an increased stress on productive skills in languages; problem solving and reasoning emphases in mathematics; and collaborative learning in sports and art. If learning occurs in a holistic fashion, then assessments, too, should be able to provide holistic information, not just bits of information.

The limitations of existing assessment practices
In order to uncover the true potential of assessments, one must revaluate their design so that they mirror the process of learning more clearly. For instance, conventional test formats are built on task types such as multiple choice, true/false, matching and are quite narrow in their focus. They provide only a glimpse of learning. Although such kind of tests may have certain uses, they are highly undifferentiated and generally incapable of revealing in any comprehensive way what students know and can do. Moreover, the conditions of such tests are often highly monitored. Students complete the work within rigid time constraints with controlled access to resources and limited opportunities to make revisions. These kinds of tests are also not authentic, since they noticeably differ from the ways in which people apply knowledge in the real world. Despite these limitations, the results of such one-time measures are frequently used to make significant decisions, such a student’s final grade in a class and his or her progress in that particular subject.

Assessments need to be transformed at a granular level so as to include personalization, differentiated instruction tailored to meet the needs of each student, and should also be able to proffer a students’ grasp of specific knowledge skills and habits of mind in a variety of contexts.

There needs to be a measurable and well-defined outcome of each learning nugget which should be reflected in the tangible result or observed behaviour of an assessment. The assessment should encourage self-evaluation, require judgment to assess, make its scoring criteria public, and reveal degrees of proficiency based on the established criteria in order for it to be called an efficient, transparent, and holistic assessment test.

Some assessment strategies which can be used in the classroom today include:

  1. Ask open-ended questions: Stay away from yes/no questions and devise questions that get students thinking. Use quick debrief sessions to engage students in reflective learning.
  2. Ask students to summarize: Challenge students to use their Twitter-style skills to summarize the main concept of a lesson in just a few short sentences.
  3. Use hand signals: This is a quick indication of understanding. For example, thumbs up means they’ve understood, sideways thumb means they’re unsure, and thumbs down means they still need help with it.
  4. Four corners: After you ask a question, learners each take a spot in a corner of the room. The corners might be ‘strongly agree,’ ‘strongly disagree,’ ‘agree somewhat,’ and ‘not sure.’
  5. Think-pair-share: Students take a few minutes to think about the question or prompt. Then, they pair with an assigned partner to discuss before sharing with the class.
  6. Socratic seminar: Socratic seminars require critical and independent thinking by both teachers and students forming essential and herding questions about the discussion topic and responding to the questions of others. They also teach learners how to respond to questions with thoughtfulness and civility.
  7. 3-2-1: Students debrief a lesson by answering the following: 3 things they learned, 2 things they want to know more about, and 1 question they have.
  8. Journal reflection: Students can reflect on and process lessons with a brief writing exercise either at the beginning or end of the day.
  9. Misconception check: Present students with a common misconception about a concept you’re covering. Ask them if they agree or disagree and then let them explain their reasons.
  10. Peer instruction: Letting students teach or explain a concept remains a powerful assessment tool. It teaches learning responsibility, communication, organizational and leadership skills. It is also the quickest way to know whether a learner has truly grasped the concept.

Since we are on the verge of implementing radical changes regarding assessment practices in school education, we must leverage technology to aid us in this endeavour. There are free and easy to use online tools such as ‘Socrative’ which is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational games and exercises via smartphones and tablets; ‘Moodle’ which is a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) can be used to create dynamic websites; ‘Google Forms’ which allows you to create many different types of questions, automatically collects students’ user names, and also has self-grading options.

Assessments have finally begun to receive the attention as important academic benchmarks in a student’s life. The proposal to set up a national assessment centre, PARAKH (Performance Assessment, Review, and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic Development), as a standard-setting body under the Ministry of Education indicates that the government is keen to provide a regular check on the education system. This can be a game changer as it will not only help states offer quality standardized assessments, but also aid in India’s alignment to global educational benchmarks.

• “School Education in 21st Century” under the National Education Policy-2020 (NEP-2020) through video-conference

The author holds a Master’s degree in English from Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi and a CELTA from the University of Cambridge. As an English language assessment specialist, she has extensively worked on developing content for various English language assessments offered by Cambridge Assessment English. She can be reached at sanjheegianchandani28@gmail.com.

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