Education Really Matters: Overview of “Assessment”

Ascertaining features about learners’ potential, abilities and personal traits can contribute towards the enhancement of their educational experiences and progress. However, careful scrutiny and reflection are required to ensure that courses of action are appropriate, well-designed and purposeful.

Assessing skills and abilities can be challenging but also rewarding.

A complex and controversial topic: The main issues which appear in the media and are of concern to teachers and parents may seem initially to be relatively simple. However, further inspection shows them to be both intricate and multifaceted. There are many differing focal points, forms and purposes underlying the vast amount of assessment practices. Unsurprisingly, the opinions and conclusions made by students, guardians, schools, universities and employers with regard to the significance and value of the information contained in assessment reports are frequently open to large discrepancies.

Some cautionary notes: In practice, there is no single ideal means of gauging learners’ exact knowledge and understanding in common curricular areas. This is also true for notable human characteristics and qualities such as personality, general intelligence and employability. Caution is applicable in relation to the management of assessments at all ages and stages. A case in point would be excessive use of quantitative and psychometric tests which are often administered inappropriately. Probably some serve the interests of their publishers and professional test users much better than pupils or parents who can be confused or misled by what these methods pertain to demonstrate. Additionally, there is the possibility of inherent bias being concealed within administrative processes as regards gender, social class or ethnicity. Undeniably, time and again, there is a strong case to be made for having very clearly-stated ‘health warnings’ issued along with formal assessment reports. Substantial caveats also apply to cumulative data collections which are analysed to make comparisons of results among schools as well as those gathered for the publication of national statistics.

Validity, reliability and usefulness: It is absolutely necessary for educationalists to be confident that approved procedures possess validity, reliability and usefulness. Validity relates to an evaluation of any kind actually measuring what it claims to measure. Questions about how well everyday assessments really do judge targeted features need to be raised more often than is currently happening. Frequently, they are well wide of the mark in terms of accuracy, or in worse-case scenarios, they measure something else. In general, reliability is largely concerned with the extent to which a test provides consistent results in what it is measuring. One form of reliability, referred to as stability, is when there are consistent scores when repeated at different times. Features to be taken into consideration include the methods, frequency and timing of assessments. An appraisal can be consistent but invalid through giving a constant result when repeated but, in reality, not measuring what is intended. Indeed, some tests are consistently invalid! What is often overlooked when debates rumble on about assessment is consideration of the usefulness of current practices. To meet the ‘utility’ criterion, assessors need to be able to demonstrate conclusively that the appraisal processes are genuinely worthwhile in terms of time, costs and realistic gains. If they are a disservice to students’ and teachers’ efforts, too bureaucratic or of little value to stakeholders, why have them?

Prioritising the advantages of those teaching and taught: From the perspective of learners, there are occasions when little or no thought seems to have been given to the suitability of common methods of assessment. For instance, at times, arrangements and frequency in gauging practical skills should be more akin to driving tests for motor vehicles. Students could be assessed when they judge themselves ready and, if they do not reach appropriate standards, have further opportunities to re-sit their examinations. Merely bestowing a number or a rating on levels of attainment may have a purpose but it also can be very limited about ensuring further intellectual growth or applied expertise. Prevailing pressures on teachers can coerce them towards giving too much attention to quantitative ways of reporting at the expense of qualitative approaches. One aspect in which traditional assessment techniques fail significantly relates to the appraisal of complex competencies which are relevant – at times essential – with regard to inter-personal relationships and professional proficiency. The introduction of new appraisal procedures should be designed with the key purpose of enabling learners to understand how to move forward in a positive fashion.

Conclusions: High-quality assessment has the following characteristics: (1) it has proven validity, reliability and usefulness; (2) its administration is undertaken by skilled and committed personnel; (3) it provides substantial information, feedback and guidance which will augment the quality of learning and teaching; (4) its execution and outcomes are of benefit to all relevant stakeholders, particularly the students involved; (5) it carries an apposite health warning.

“In an effective classroom students should not only know what they are doing. They should also know why and how.” (Harry Wong)

Reference: The more detailed article on which this overview is based can be found at the following link: