When you say the word “assessment” or mention that you work in assessment and testing, you don’t get quite the same response as if you said you work for World Vision or UNICEF. It is a bit like ‘fessing up to being an auditor at a party. You are much more likely to receive a “Gosh, look at the time, I really need to be anywhere else but here” response or a dressing down about the negative effects of tests on education.
Depending on whether you are the student, teacher, principal or parent, the word assessment tends to bring with it feelings of stress, boredom, annoyance or discomfort. Little wonder really when you consider that according to the Cambridge dictionary, “Assessment” is all about making “judgements” and “forming opinions”…youch! It is a rare individual that enjoys deliberately judging others or being on the receiving end of the judgements. For time-poor teachers, just the thought of setting tests, marking them, gathering, collating and analysing the data can be overwhelming. Even understanding the differences between formative, summative, high stakes, etc is a challenge in itself. No wonder the concept of continuous assessment has such negative connotations.
As a parent I don’t care too much about how my child is doing against the national average, but I do care about whether he is improving consistently in his ability to problem solve, make sense of things and grasp increasingly challenging concepts. And, if he isn’t, then what can we do to help. If we don’t continually assess students, how will we ever know if they are spinning their wheels at a road block?
From a business perspective, assessment is essentially measurement. As business managers, we have been indoctrinated with Peter Drucker’s mantra “what you don’t measure doesn’t get done”. This shouldn’t mean that we go the whole year and then pull out a bunch of KPIs and work out whether we achieved them, set some new ones and move on for another year. The idea of the annual performance appraisal (summative assessment) is declining as corporations catch up with the education sector who understand that continuous assessment is the key. Deloitte Australia dumped bi-annual performance reviews earlier this year in favour of a continuous assessment system which involves weekly or fortnightly “check ins”.
There is obviously so much evidence to show that employees who are given consistent feedback about performance are more engaged with working towards the strategic objectives of the organisation. Similarly, students who receive continuous and specific feedback about how engaged they are in learning and how well they are tracking against the original learning goals leads to greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is important because it is the starting point for both academic and social and emotional intelligence.
Continuous assessment is vital in providing a perspective on teaching strategies. If everyone knows how vital formative assessment is to teaching, how can we develop a structured and simple process to allow for continuous rather than ad-hoc assessment?