Mistaken identity of assessment

Setting terms straight

For better learning outcome and symbiotic relationship between students and teachers, assessments have to be redefined.

Educational stakeholders across the country have been working tirelessly over the years towards improving student achievement of learning outcomes in school education.

Much of the resources like well-trained teachers, dynamic curriculum & pedagogy, quality textbooks, availability of good infrastructure in schools etc have been dissected and examined repeatedly.

Right way to assess

One crucial factor that contributes to improving learning levels, often overlooked, is assessments.

They are often misinterpreted in terms of evaluation. It is viewed as something that comes at the end of teaching-learning in the form of summative assessments to measure what has been learnt and assign a grade to the student. 

It is high time that the concept of assessment moves past its colonial identity as a tool for grading, selection and certification. While it could still be used for such purposes, the potential of assessments in school education is much beyond that.

Formative assessments or classroom-based assessments focused on improving student learning should come to the forefront.

Research literature suggests that focusing more on classroom-based and student-centric assessments tends to particularly help low-achieving students, thereby improving the overall learning levels of the class.

Assessments should be viewed as an integral part of pedagogy wherein both students and teachers understand their problem areas and work towards improvement.

Assessments should focus on giving timely individualised feedback to students rather than final grades or scores, which is evaluation. 

Assessments in general and formative assessments in particular were given a lot of mileage when Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) came into existence in 2010.

CCE under the Right to Education (RTE) Act stressed that “assessment during teaching-learning process would help teachers observe a child’s learning progress, provide timely feedback and support to help the child overcome learning difficulties, if any.”

Despite the significant focus given to formative assessments as a tool for teaching-learning, teachers continue to misinterpret its core purpose.

Formative assessments either take the shape of multiple smaller summative tests or are restricted to superficial questioning while teaching the lesson.

Several research studies conducted in various states of the country in the past few years on teacher evaluation and CCE implementation provide ample evidences for the same. These studies point towards the fact that assessment continues to be used primarily for grading purposes based on textbook recall or  recitation.

A few studies also talk about teachers’ lack of perception of assessment as a tool capable for promoting self-reflection and critical thinking among students. Good pass percentage in summative exams continue to be the focus in classrooms. 

Majority of the learning outcomes for elementary level as per the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) focuses on higher cognitive abilities. Such abilities are best developed through inquiry and investigation; application of knowledge to new situations; creation of ideas and solutions; and collaborative problem-solving and
learning.

The root cause of this goes back to pre-service teacher training, even before teachers enter the system. Although formative assessments are part of formal B Ed curriculum, the ground level practice of integrating the same into pedagogy seems to be missing. As such, there is a need for both pre-service and in-service teacher education to focus more on the interlinkages between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Additionally, organisations across the country working in the field of education could contribute to developing open-source repositories for conducting effective classroom assessments. This could be in the form of assessment integrated lesson plan modules; formative assessment tools and techniques; and guidance to use assessment results for better learning outcomes. 

Assessment drives learning. If quality assessments are designed, they modulate students’ understanding of their learning and help teachers adapt their pedagogy based on student performances. Eventually, such a symbiotic relation between assessment and pedagogy will result in better learning outcomes.  

(The authors are with Azim Premji University, Bengaluru)

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