Friday, 5 February 2010

How to assess learning - that is today's burning question

At the start of a new exam week, assessment is on my mind again. It seems that it is being reviewed and discussed in Finland as well as abroad. Just yesterday I received the following comment from Susan van Gelder in Montreal:
There is a lot of talk here about assessment of learning and assessment for learning. In the latter the student also plays a role in assessment, reflecting on their learning, their strategies and setting goals.
And then today, looking through some of the Finnish educators' social networking sites, I came across exactly the same topic. Referring to my previous thoughts about standard assessment in Finnish high schools, I welcome all these ideas about focusing more on self-reflection, peer assessment and the role of assessment as a means to enhance learning. It's a clich├ęd statement that assessment guides what is learned. So it would make sense to assess what is worth learning, wouldn't it?

Another point that keeps coming up in connection with assessment is the use (or rather the absence!) of new technology for assessment purposes. In my 365 photo blog, I shortly touched on this topic inspired by the classroom reality during exams. We don't use technology in exams, period. It's the old paper and pencil method. For that exam photo I received an interesting comment from Marie Coleman, in Lorenzo Walker Technical High School, in Naples, Florida:
...most of our high school students exams are provided online, so laptops do replace the traditional paper and pen!

I guess I'm not convinced that the written exam is a way to assess learning - what about projects, multimedia, authentic assessment? Perhaps that is too unrealistic or unwieldy, but that is the way I would prefer to see the focus with or without technology (i.e., technology itself is not the focal point, but will likely be of use due to its ubiquity!).
On second thoughts then, I realized that we do use something new -

- these wireless headphones for the listening comprehension tests in foreign languages. But as you can see, it's the old bubble sheets for the answers. The headphones don't really offer anything new - they are just a crutch, and actually make the situation totally unauthentic - as do the structure and content of these tests and the multiple choice questions. Nothing new under the sun in the field of school assessment. Even I succumbed to the old testing format yet again, despite all my good intentions. The students did do portfolio work throughout the course, and part of the exam was their own self-assessment on this work, but that's as far as my innovation has reached.

I do agree with Marie, and so many others, that it is not the technology per se that is going to revolutionize (or even slightly improve) assessment, and education in general. Clearly, assessment needs much more time and focused and collaborative faculty planning.

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