3.7.1 Types of Assessment
Learning objectives for this chapter
By the end of this chapter, we would like you:
- To be able to define assessment
- To appreciate the centrality of why assessment is important to learning
- To be able to consider the relevance of an assessment for learning approach
- To be able to consider the usability of multiple assessment methods
- To be able to select appropriate assessment methodologies
1. What is assessment?
Assessment is a key part of any educative experience. To some extent, at least, the element which distinguishes education from other aspects of learning is the presence of assessment. As this chapter will show, assessment can take many forms, and the creative and proactive teacher should be prepared to draw upon a diverse range of methods and approaches to assessment in order to get the best from their learners.
Assessment does not have a single function. Though it may be tempting to conceptualise assessment as an end-of-course activity intended to gauge learners' abilities with reference to the course which has just been completed, this and the following sections will demonstrate that assessment is varied, multi-purpose, and may be enacted using a perhaps surprisingly diverse array of methods.
In bald terms, assessment may be formative or summative. Formative assessment is that which a learner receives and which an educator gives throughout a course; formative assessment allows both parties to better understand the level and success of learning thus far in the course, and provokes in turn reflection on and an opportunity for guidance for both rewarding good work and targeting deficiencies and other areas in which evidence of learning might be better produced. Summative assessment, sometimes called final assessment, refers to the end-of-course assessment opportunities intended to make a final determination of the learner's success over the entire course. Some courses may also have initial assessments, which are intended to be diagnostic; these are a kind of formative assessment, and may be used to target support or otherwise assess the suitability of a prospective student for the proposed new course of instruction.
Assessment is both regular and continual, though it may not be always formal. Responses to learners' questions, and praise and guidance given in passing, are examples of informal assessment and feedback. Feedback, whether written, oral, or in the form of grades or scores without commentary, should always be geared towards being constructive, as feedback which does not seek to develop the learner can be counterproductive and may impact negatively on their confidence. Assessment and feedback which is constructive is more likely to give confidence, to inspire improvement, to give guidance on areas of the topic requiring a closer focus, and will reward achievement (Gravells, 2015).
Assessments may be internally or externally set. For certificated qualifications, externally set assessments will be part of the design of the course of instruction, with a mix of coursework assessment and final assessment contributing to the overall determination of the candidate's level of competence in the subject as the level being assessed. The final grade awarded in such situations is not merely the assessment result, but also acts as a form of feedback. Assessment arrangements will be clearly described in the qualification rubric, and should be taken into consideration in the scheme of work and lesson planning devised so that learners will be more than sufficiently prepared not only in the subject knowledge and related competencies which the course is privileging, but also in the modes of assessment which are favoured in the qualification, and particularly in its final assessments. Though teaching to the assessment is to be guarded against, as it favours assessment performance over subject knowledge, teaching nevertheless needs to prepare learners for assessment in relevant ways.
All assessment, then, should be geared towards learning. The phrase 'assessment for learning' captures this impetus; there has been a shift in recent years away from defining assessment solely in relation to summative ability, and more towards assessment being seen as part of an ongoing set of learner developmental processes. If assessment does not benefit the learner, then perhaps we should question why that assessment exists (Berry, 2008).
2. Why is assessment important?
Assessment can be said to have four main functions; these are not wholly separate categories, but may overlap, depending on the context of the assessment. The first function is that of placing and selection: initial assessments to band learners according to incoming ability, or used as an entry qualification. The second, and perhaps a related aspect of assessment, is diagnostics: assessment may be used to determine if (and the nature and extent of) a specific learning difficulty is present, so that support may be targeted towards the learner's precise requirements. The third function is that of accountability. Assessments may be used to provide a determination of whether learning outcomes have been achieved, either in part (as in formative assessment) or in full (as in summative modes of assessment). In addition, learner grades are used as a measure of both individual teachers' and whole schools' ability to help learners towards those same learning outcomes. Such data is informative at a school and local authority level, and regarding league tables and internal quality processes, as well as to external Ofsted inspections. Accountability measures in UK compulsory education include Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which derive information and standings from GCSE level performance, and so give an indication of the effectiveness of school performance at Key Stage 4 (HM Government, 2014). The fourth function of assessment is that of supporting learning. Within this overall category are aspects, such as the development of learner motivation and the building of confidence by recognising and rewarding achievement, the providing of data to teachers so that they can direct support to where it is needed, and to assure them of the nature and extent of whole-class and individual learner engagement with learning (Brown, Fautley, and Savage, 2008).
Though assessment for learning is often formative, the two terms are not wholly interchangeable; the latter may also refer to any non-summative assessment method, whereas assessment for learning is that which contributes to the learner understanding of and engagement with the topic area being studied.For Young (2006), assessment for learning is important as it articulates four important characteristics. These are: having high quality learner-teacher interactions; the sharing of clear and mutually-understood learning goals; the closing of the learning gap between learners producing work and their receiving feedback on it; supporting learners to be responsible for their own learning.
Where assessments are linked directly to feedback, and particularly in the time gap between the two, learning can be consolidated in the moment rather than being lost in the space between assessed work being completed and being returned once marked. Online activities and homework systems can be of use here, though immediate oral feedback can be of use in clarifying the connections between study and assessment. Developmental suggestions in feedback are useful; this reinforces the idea that assessment is learning and is productive, rather than being a summative activity which need not be returned to.
Where learners are motivated in their own learning progress, and in becoming responsible for their development, use can be made of that investment.
3. Types of assessment
This section outlines different types of assessment, and makes brief comments on their relative strengths and weaknesses. Not all assessment types will be suitable for all contexts, so this is very much a guide to the diversity of possible approaches than a list to be followed in all teaching circumstances. Neither is this listing intended to be wholly comprehensive; the range and applicability of potential types of assessment is a subject which could (and does) fill entire books. Nevertheless, the selection offered here may give ideas for assessment approaches of your own to adopt.
Blended assessment: Blended learning and assessing most often takes a multimedia approach, and typically integrates online and offline activities. Can be popular with learners, and addresses a spectrum of learning styles through the broad approach. Equal access to ICT may be an issue though.
Case study: A case study replicates a real-world scenario in a usually fictionalised context. Case studies allow learners to safely apply learning to realistic conditions, which can incentivise engagement. Detailed case studies can be lengthy and time-consuming to assess; group work needs to be apportioned fairly, so that individual learners' contributions can be detected (Klenowski and Wyatt-Smith, 2013).
Discussion/debate: A classroom discussion can be ad-hoc, extemporise, or learners may be required to prepare in advance. This can allow for group work, participation by all, and can facilitate free discussion and debate. However, careful leadership is needed to ensure that debates stay on-topic and under control. Learner feedback can, though, be immediate, and peer assessment is possible.
Essays and reports: Formal written pieces in response to a specific (and usually set) question; useful for academic topics and for exploring subjects and argumentative skills in depth, as well as providing evidence of language and research skills. Essays are less suitable for younger and less able learners, and can be time-consuming to read and grade. Safeguards may need to be in place to guard against plagiarism.
Examinations: Formally-conducted tests under observation conditions. Exams are good for assessing summative knowledge, and in working against time pressure and resource constraints. They can be stressful for learners though, and require resources to stage. Feedback can be time-consuming to arrange.
Group work: Activity-based work, which may take any of a variety of forms, though a key aim is the assessment of the group working as much as the product of that work. This type of assessment encourages peer assessment, co-operation, and can make lengthy tasks manageable in classroom contexts. Issues of personality clashes, equal workload sharing, and of the potential for disagreements between group members over the way to approach the task may arise, though, and require considered marshalling by the teacher (Clarke, 2014).
Homework: An overarching term for work set to be completed outside timetabled sessions. Homework must be meaningful and extend learning; it is not for catching up on uncompleted classroom work. One useful way of having homework address learning is for it to be preparatory for the next session. Homework assessment should be timely and individualised to the learner. Excessive assessed homework is time-consuming for learners and teachers.
Peer assessment. Learners grading or offering opinions on others work can stimulate group and class engagement, and can offer immediate feedback. Simple methods can involve cross-marking of papers in class. Personality issues may require classroom management, though learners may be encouraged to scaffold each other's learning through assessment here.
Presentations: Learners producing and delivering supported talks on a topic. Academic and transferable skills may be assessed, as well as communication and public-speaking competencies. These can be time-consuming to assess, though, and may be awkward to stage in classrooms, as well as dull for non-participants of multiple presentations are being staged to the class.
Questioning: Whether written or oral, or closed (Yes/no responses) multiple choice, or open-ended, the use of questioning in its many varieties is a mainstay of assessment. The breadth of questioning possibilities makes this a useful technique, though care must be taken when phrasing questions so there is no ambiguity in the direction required (unless dealing with ambiguity is part of the test).
Role play: Learners exploring hypothetical contexts within role-play can be fun and engaging, though offers both participation and can link theoretical to real-world situations straightforwardly. Classroom management techniques may be required to keep the role plays on course; some learners may be unwilling to participate, citing embarrassment or perceived childishness of the task.
The varieties and uses of assessment can vary depending on the contexts of the session, the types of learners being engaged, the skills being evidenced, the relevance to the qualification, and a host of other potential logistical and other parameters. Whatever methods are being used in each session, though, there needs to be consideration of the learners' needs, the usefulness of the assessment in developing learning, the evidencing of achievement, and the opportunities affording in developing the learner further, both in respect of their subject-relevant competencies, and towards whatever summative assessment methods will be used to gauge their end of course abilities.
Assessment is both a goal in education, as a means of determining the success or otherwise, and the level of success, of a learner within a course of instruction. But the final assessment only ever tells part of the story of the educational journey. As educators, there is an obligation to offer education which is challenging yet stimulating, relevant yet testing, realistic where this is appropriate, and levelled appropriately. Assessments and their outcomes, therefore, are important at several levels, and it is the work of the capable educator to effectively articulate these at times competing pressures.
Bartlett, J. (2015) Outstanding assessment for learning in the classroom. Abingdon: Routledge.
Berry, R. (2008) Assessment for learning. Aberdeen, HK: Hong Kong University Press.
Brown, M., Fautley, M. and Savage, J. (2008) Assessment for learning and teaching in secondary schools. Exeter: Learning Matters.
Clarke, S. (2014) Outstanding formative assessment: culture and practice. London: Hodder Education.
Gravells, A. (2015) Principles and practices of assessment: a guide for assessors in the FE and skills sector. London: SAGE Publications.
HM Government (2014) How many qualifications will count towards the Progress 8 measure? Available at: http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/285990/
P8_factsheet.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2016).
Klenowski, V. and Wyatt-Smith, C. (2013) Assessment for education: standards, judgement and moderation. London: SAGE Publications.
National Foundation for Educational Research (2012) Getting to grips with assessment. Available at: http://www.nfer.ac.uk/pdf/getting-to-grips-with-assessment-1.pdf (Accessed: 9 November 2016).
Wiliam, D. (2009) What is assessment for learning? Available at: http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers_files/Cambridge%20AfL%20keynote.doc (Accessed: 10 November 2016).
Young, E. (2006) Assessment for learning: embedding and extending. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/Assessment%20for%20Learning%20version%202vp_tcm4-385008.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2016).
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