Role of Assessment in the Learning Curve of a student

Assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning process. It determines whether the goal of education has been met or not. It helps the teacher to assess her teaching abilities in teaching the concept and assess the student’s understanding of information or concept. It becomes the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students.

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According to Assessing Student Learning and Development: A Guide to the Principles, Goals, and Methods of Determining College Outcomes (Erwin, 1991), Assessment is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analysing, interpreting, and using [the] information to increase students’ learning and development.

We are presently facing more challenges in education as new technologies have changed the way we work, learn, live and function in a digital and knowledge-based society. Unless the learner develops skills like planning, studying and setting goals, it will be difficult to avoid stress at the last minute.

Handling stress associated with exams…

The psychological stress associated with the examinations is more injurious to the learner than any curricular or learning stress. We need to analyze why this psychological stress is caused and find remedies to minimize it. The stress is majorly caused by our pursuit of competitive excellence. This, in turn, makes the learner go after certain careers which are branded as rewarding and iconic. To get into these courses, learners go through preparatory courses which give them stress as they may not have the aptitude for it. Hence, it is necessary for schools and parents to expose the learners to careers which are linked to their passions and which will give them self-satisfaction. The debate about introducing a choice of subjects which the learner can relate to should start early, so that it would become easier for the learner to discover his strengths and weak areas. This will help them choose a career where their strengths will be disciplined, refined and sharpened.

Exposure to life skills in itself will sensitize a learner to go after personal excellence than competitive excellence. This will help the learner to combat psychological stress. Stress related to work or the pressure of impending examinations is something every learner goes through. This can be minimized by proper breathing exercises, by bringing in a disciplinary style of living where time management and planning play an important role.

Role of assessment…

From the standpoint of teachers and the school, standardized tests can be made to asses different roles. The role of assessment in the learning curve of a learner depends on the performance of the learner as it is supposed to reflect the competence of the learner. The current examination system does not always succeed in assessing the true merits and worth of a learner. The current design of the examination system emphasizes on knowledge-oriented information evaluated in the 3-hour exam. This necessitates learning loads of information over one or two years which causes stress. Overpowered by stress, learners often take wrong decisions in their life.

Student-centric assessments…

It is now time to move away from standardized formatted tests to more tailored and student-centric approaches to assess a learner’s ability and progress. Having diverse assessment options makes the teacher tackle the curriculum strategically and keep the students motivated.

There are four types of assessments which can be conducted to ensure this student-centric approach.

A. Friendly Diagnostic:

Diagnostic tests essentially help us evaluate a student’s proficiency level in order to optimally design or adjust a curriculum. They don’t need to be serious and scary. By making them more friendly and relaxed, we can incorporate them more easily into curriculum planning. There are certain tips which can help a teacher to make diagnostic testing a routine.

1. Go Grade-less: Taking away grades decreases the learners’ fear of failure and can lead to more accurate results. Soon the students won’t even dread them anymore and you can use them regularly.

2. Be Consistent: Making the students take a diagnostic test at least once a month can help the teacher tweak the curriculum based on the results.

3. Test undercover: Let the teacher not call any test, a proficiency test or a diagnostic test. It can be called a grammar exercise, a comprehension activity or some other subtle name that leaves students feeling less judged. Conducting a quiz at the end of every chapter or book unit, will help the teacher review what is still required before moving on, as well as how the next unit should be prioritized.

B. Learner-centred:

Learners should be made part of the assessment process. This helps the learner to develop an awareness of his/her progress in learning. Students may be asked to design tests and/or the rubrics for assessment. It helps the learner to evaluate his/her own strengths and areas where improvement is needed.

In an article by Chappuis and Stiggins (2002), a few key components of assessment for learning are:

1. Student involved assessment: Students are not passive in the assessment process but are engaged in developing the assessment, determining what a good performance entails, and learning to score through models provided by the teacher.

2. Effective teacher feedback: Teachers are the models for students to learn what is important in their performance. So feedback should be clear, descriptive, and illustrated for students. Students need guidance in giving their peers feedback as well as in evaluating themselves. This goal is grounded in the teacher modelling effective feedback.

A teacher can plan a review day before the actual testing happens. He/she can go through the lesson/s with the students and determine what would qualify as mastering that lesson, what would qualify as passing/average and what would qualify as failing/unsatisfactory? For example, if the teacher is reviewing irregular verb conjugation and vocabulary about the weather, then the following activities can inform both the teacher and students to determine that, in order to have mastered this chapter, they should be able to:
• Show that they can conjugate all of the main irregular verbs (written exercise).
• Be able to use them in a sentence (written & verbal exercises).
• Have a conversation using them without making mistakes (verbal exercise).
• Write a 300-word text that incorporates all of their weather vocabulary and each irregular verb, using a provided word bank (written exercise).

Though this remains a time-consuming process. However, the teacher will have a developed logical end-of-course assessment that the students think is fair and make them accountable and invested.

C. Self-Assessment:

Assessment for learning should lead to self-directed learning, which requires learners to evaluate themselves. This skill is not easy and requires guidance from the teacher. Students should be asked to think about their goals, their current ability, and how to work with each other. Feedback and self-assessment are critical parts of this process. A teacher can use a KWL chart wherein self-assessment by the learners helps the teacher to know where exactly each learner stands.

If a teacher has already incorporated comprehension, speaking, tasks and grammar, then self-assessment becomes child’s play for the class. Some benefits of self-assessment are:
• Showing vs telling: Students fully understand what they need to improve upon and why because the assessment isn’t coming from the teacher.
• Motivation: Students will be more interested because, as the graders, they’ll know exactly the level they’re expected to achieve. There won’t be any surprises or ambiguity.
• Fairness: Students like having a say in their final score because they trust that it will be fair.

Self-assessments can follow a format that is accepted. A teacher can give a listening exercise with questions or an essay or a spoken exercise. Then, the teacher can share the rubrics which he/she has framed and ask the students to grade themselves with the given rubrics. The teacher also simultaneously gives the grades using the same rubrics and the final grade can be the average of the two scores. It is very useful for the student to give a detailed rubric to ensure that the grading is more accurate.

D. Task-Based:

Task-based teaching, an offshoot of the communicative approach, follows a student-centric approach. According to N.S. Prabhu’s ‘Second Language Pedagogy,’ these are the tasks which can be given to the learners:
• Information gap activities are those that involve the transfer of information from one person to another, from one form to another or from one place to another. This type of activity allows students to request information, ask for clarification and negotiate both meanings, particularly when misunderstandings occur, and appropriate conclusions are given to the task.
• Reasoning gap activities are those in which you ask your students to derive some information from that which you give them. They are required to comprehend and convey information, much as in an information gap activity, but the information that they are asked to convey is not exactly the same that they comprehend.
• Opinion gap activities are those that ask students to convey their own personal preferences, feelings or ideas about a particular situation. On a higher level, you might ask them to take part in a discussion or debate about a political or social issue. On a lower level, you might ask them to complete a story.

With all these activities from the teacher’s side and from the school’s side, things can still go wrong when the learner does not have a motivating friendly background at home which will definitely affect the learner a lot. Parents need to take on the role of an understanding counsellor whenever a learner goes through a stress-related situation. A parent’s assertion that he/she will accept the child as he/she is without expectations will in itself bond the learner with the parent and then half the battle is won. Finally, everything is possible when the learner desires it and is ready to co-operate and compromise. And this understanding will come to the learner when his/her upbringing goes hand in hand with a value-added friendly ambience at home.

Dr Seethalakshmi Viswanath, with a doctorate in English literature, has over 30 years of experience in handling classes ranging from primary to senior secondary; she has on date 18 years of experience as principal. She has been trained in Educational leadership at NUEPA, by Kuruvilla Jacob Initiatives for Excellence in Education, by EZ Vidya. She has been associated with CBSE as a Resource Person.

Presently, she is engaged full-time as a teacher trainer for many modules including Language Development, Class room management, Brain based learning, Developing motivation, Differentiated learning and the like.

She has won many awards as a translator from Bengali to Tamil, as an essay writer, as a short story writer and reviewer and for being an efficient principal. She has also written books for primary children and composition and writing skills books for secondary students.