The primary purpose of assessment is for the learner to provide evidence of learning by demonstrating the understanding of content and achievement of learning outcomes. This gives an insight of their strengths and areas of development. Whereas for teacher, it provides a moment to review their assessment strategies in terms of effectiveness and facilitate progression by giving constructive feedback. It also informs the curriculum board, managers, and relevant staff to evaluate learning programmes for any improvements.
Learners are assessed through various stages of learning journey by using variety of methods and strategies. They are usually assessed formatively before or during the course and summatively near or the end of it. Formative assessment provides a continuous source of information about students’ progress, improvement and problems encountered in the learning process. It could be an “Initial Assessment” to determine prior knowledge or “Diagnostic Assessment” to find areas of development and strengths. Feedback is an integral part of it. NCFOT, 1999) said it “occurs when teachers feed information back to the students in ways that enable the student to learn better, or when students can engage in a similar, self-reflective process”(Principle 4). It has also been supported by several educationists such as Scales (2008 p. 179), Black and William (1998: 17) and Reece and Walker (2007 p. 325). Formative assessments are not graded which allows flexibility to modify and adjust the teaching practices and reflect the needs and progress of learners as well as motivating them. However, formative assessment in its purist form is seldom used (Brookhart, 1999).
I feel that teachers should be given training to as “how” and “when” to employ it successfully. There are variety of methods by which students are assessed formatively such as Accreditation of prior learning (APL), Observation, Oral Questioning, Discussion, Role play, Case study, Essays, Projects, Assignments, MCQs etc. which when used in combination has proven effective in measuring a variety of complex learning outcomes (Reece and Walker, 2007, p. 326) It is useful for development of “Cognitive”, “Psychomotor” and “Affective Domains” of learning as explained in Bloom’s Taxonomy and could assess higher order skills of these domains.
Some teachers are predominantly concerned with cognitive learning with some use of psychomotor skills but affective learning can be a useful tool in changing attitudes i. e. gender, culture etc. even if it’s not a requirement of a course. Summative Assessment happens at the end of the course, unit etc. and is for grading and decision purpose. It is used for informing employers, institutions etc. about learner’s overall performance. It does not however, give information about detailed abilities of learner and there is no feedback so it is debated for its complete reliability and validity. Scales, 2008 and Rust, 2002). Learners are assessed summatively mostly by Examination, Assignments, Portfolios, and Essays. They develop the skill levels of ‘cognitive and psychomotor domains’ depending on how effectively they are set out and the type of course. ‘MCQs’ and ‘Viva’ for instance can provide better coverage of syllabus as well as assessment of deeper knowledge whereas essays does not serve the same purpose but assess higher levels of cognitive domain i. e. synthesis and evaluation. Feedback is an important element of assessment and is directly related to motivation.
In order to accelerate learning process it has to be timely, positive and constructive. “Maslow’s hierarchy makes us think about the total experience….. From physiological factors…. to relationships (do we give positive regard and development feedback? ) to self-esteem needs (‘I’m no good … ’), his hierarchy provides a useful device to help us understand learning and motivation(Scales, 2008 p. 72). We need to keep records to track and monitor the progress of our learners. They are many different types of internal, external and formal and informal records.
Internal records include mark books, matrix, learner progress sheets/ reviews and results of mock tests. In ESOL, we keep records of Initial interview, Initial assessment, spiky profile, ILPs, Diagnostic assessment, Formative assessment, observation reports, feedback reports, peer/self assessments and Summative assessments to assess the progress of learners and efficacy of programme and teaching. The external records include all the evidence in form of written work or internal verification to sent to external bodies i. e. exam board, auditing bodies, other educational organisations, support staff, etc.