There are a number of misconceptions regarding the role of assessment in modern education. Unfortunately while these beliefs may shape opinions outside of education, they also have the potential to influence the attitudes and behaviours of current teachers and learners.

Following are noticeable misconceptions towards assessments and ways to address them in the classroom:

Assessment and evaluation are the same.

Too many people, particularly those not employed in the field of education, confuse these two, and too often within the field we evaluate learners work and tell ourselves that what we’ve done is assessment.  Assessment involves timely, detailed feedback based around clearly defined learning outcomes. Evaluation is ‘giving a mark’ to a piece of work, usually based on normal criteria, but too often in comparison to the work of other learners.

Most assessment is summative.

As we’ve learned over the past decade or so assessment can be a very powerful learning tool in and of itself. We need to constantly assess both learner’s work and our own teaching, adjusting as we go, such that by the time we get to the end of a unit of study learners have already had an opportunity to rethink and revise their work. There are still far too many teachers who rely too heavily on one single summative assessment at the end of each unit and then move onto another topic no matter the outcomes.

Assessment is one-way communication: the teacher gives feedback on learners work.

The most productive assessment should be a dialogue. In traditional assessment and evaluation models, learners complete a task, the teacher assesses the work and tells the learner how they’ve done and, in formative cases, how to improve the work.  But when learners engage with the teacher to discuss work, talk about what they’ve done and why, both learner and teacher stand to gain far more from the experience. Modern technology makes two-way communication between teacher and learner much easier and far more universal, let’s start using it more effectively.

Assessment is for marking purposes.

This is one of the most general and potentially damaging methods from old teachers in education. Yes, final marks should reflect some of what has gone on between learner and teacher regarding assessment. But the “collecting of marks” to arrive at the final mark is counterproductive in many ways, here are just two.

First, the collection of marks too often includes work that was done before learners had mastered the material. As has been said by others, when we redo things like driving tests we don’t ‘average’ the results, why do we do this with school work. Secondly, every teacher, especially in secondary schools, is aware of how the pursuit of ‘marks’ often distracts learners’ focus from the work at hand. This is doubly damaging because neuroscience is telling us that brains under stress from external stimuli can have significantly diminished learning capacity.

Learners work should be given a mark.

In summative situations, or where marks are necessary, this assertion is true.  But too often we put a mark on learners work when we’re hoping to use the work formatively, which is a mistake. As soon as learners see a mark on a piece of work, be it a letter or number grade, the focus is immediately taken off of any meaningful feedback and, in the learner’s mind, that piece of work is complete.

It’s time to move on. No matter what the teacher intends marks imply a finality that’s hard to overcome in learners’ minds.

If assignments are late, a teacher should deduct marks.

There is no pedagogically strong reason for doing this; this is simply trying to modify behavior using pressure through marks. There is nothing wrong with having some consequence for late work, but the assignment of marks (when necessary) should reflect learning, nothing more. Put another way, if a learner hands in work worthy of an A today, is that work somehow different if it were handed in tomorrow?

My experience as an educator has been that when teachers rethink and reform their views about what assessment is about, and what its primary purposes are, their feedback is always positive. When we interfere the ‘grade book’ out of the collective hand of those in the teaching profession, and allow individual teachers the freedom to use assessment in more productive ways, we find that assessment becomes far more authentic and fruitful and far less about the work (and judgment) of marking.

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