Assessments, tests, quizzes – whatever be the name they go by in a school – are generally not positive experiences for anyone. Not for the teachers, not for the parents and certainly not for the students.
To start with, they are a lot of work. Teachers prepare the assessments, conduct them, evaluate them, tabulate the marks, make reports etc. Parents go hyperactive whenever an assessment is mentioned, helping their kids prepare – waking them up in the morning, helping them with lessons, restricting TV time – and generally fussing about, in their anxiety to make sure everything goes right. The students themselves become anxious, if not outright afraid, at the thought of assessments.
Very often, assessments are boring. They provide little scope for students to be creative or to demonstrate their different abilities. Students are expected to sit quietly and fill blank after blank or write page after page. Teachers read and mark and read and mark. More often than not, assessment time is quiet and quite dreadfully quiet.
For all the hard work they entail, assessments are generally not very useful. They generate precious little information. The student and the parent get one number for each test – the marks scored. The teacher may generate some more numbers – the class average and the range of marks for her class. If the class scores badly, the solution is fairly standard – ‘Let’s revise this lesson’. Similarly, the advice to a student who did not do well, has not changed much in the last century – ‘you need to study harder’.
End of the day, everyone puts in a lot of effort in to assessments but gets very little useful information out of them.
Do things really need to be this way? Over the last few years a lot has changed about the way progressive schools use assessments. From being looked at merely as tests of proficiency, assessments are now increasingly being used to generate valuable information that can be used to improve the teaching learning process. So, how can we get more out of the assessment process?
Assessments can be focused and at the same time, be fun. While assessments should include paper and pen tests, these can be made interesting and engaging through real life situations, relatable examples and pictures.
Assessments can also go beyond traditional tests by including a variety of activities like poster making, presentation, group discussion. These activity based assessments can focus on subject specific learning outcomes as well as life skills and multiple intelligences.
Well-designed assessments can focus on specific learning goals and give much more specific and actionable information to teachers, parents and students. Rather than revising entire lessons, teachers could focus on the specific areas where most students need help. Similarly students can be told what each of them needs to focus on, rather than being told to “study harder”.
The availability of modern technology like tablets and data analysis platforms make it possible for us to realize the potential that well-designed assessments offer, while drastically reducing the paperwork associated with assessment.
Most progressive schools are rethinking how they use assessments. You should too.