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New Models of Student Assessment Essay

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2021

One of the main aspects of education is ensuring that learners learn effectively. To accomplish that, educators need to evaluate learning outcomes, and this is not a simple task. Within recent decades, it has been recognised that more attention should be paid to assessment because this process can be designed not only to provide results on how well students learn but also to contribute to the learning itself by making it easier and more effective. New models of student assessment have been developed, and it is possible to identify and address the differences among them by comparing the assessments of the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC).

MoE mostly employs and promotes traditional assessment models based on measuring students’ performance. This approach to assessment can be referred to as summative. Summative assessment is evaluation based on certain benchmarks and occurring regularly at the end of certain periods, e.g. tests, quizzes, midterm exams, and final exams. In contrast to this approach, progressive education models employ so-called formative assessment that implies evaluating learning and teaching processes as they are unfolding (Garrison & Ehringhaus, 2007). The concept of formative assessment is close to the concept of continuous assessment used by ADEC. Continuous assessment measures “student performance relative to established learning outcomes and provide teachers with data to guide their planning of classroom instruction” (Abu Dhabi Education Council, 2013, p. 64). Similar to formative assessment, continuous assessment pursues not only measuring the effectiveness of education but also shaping educational activities based on feedback from evaluation.

Garrison and Ehringhaus (2007) state that “formative assessment is part of the instructional process. When incorporated into classroom practice, it provides the information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening” (p. 1). This approach has been popular within recent decades because it manages to critically estimate the effectiveness of delivered education. It has been argued that summative assessment fails to recognise the needs of learners that are newly arising or had been overlooked when education programs were designed. Formative assessment activities, such as student-led conferences, provide educators with valuable feedback, which allows modifying the learning process toward addressing the needs of learners more effectively. Summative and formative assessment in education can be compared to different approaches to gardening (“The garden analogy,” n.d.). Summative assessment is measuring plants; certain criteria can be developed to conclude whether the plants’ growth and development are normal. However, it can be argued that such measurements do not actually contribute to the growth and development of the plants. Formative assessment, on the other hand, is similar to nourishing and watering the plants according to their needs.

Moving from traditional to progressive education standards, ADEC introduces new models, and MoE is likely to adopt them in the future, as the Ministry already demonstrates its interest in ADEC’s educational strategies. According to Dr. Al-Khaili, Director General of ADEC, “MoE and ADEC closely work together in order to develop the quality of teaching and learning in schools” (“A delegation from MoE explores ADEC’s NSM and school infrastructure,” 2013, para. 3), which is a sign of the Ministry’s acknowledgement of ADEC’s achievements.

National and International Tests

Testing is an integral element of evaluation in education, but the norms and standards of testing have been a subject of an ongoing debate because the possibility of objective testing is widely recognised as questionable today (Hargreaves, 2005). Within recent decades, the efforts of researchers and educators have intensified in terms of trying to improve testing and assessment strategies, tools, and processes, and the intensification has reached the point in which researchers refer to it as “the modern obsession with education” (Kamens & McNeely, 2010, p. 22). This tendency is observed in the way educational institutions and national education-related public administrators respond to the process of redesigning testing standards: regardless of students’ performance in international tests, education decision makers never reduce their effort in trying to improve the educational systems in their countries (Kamens & McNeely, 2010). Globalisation is one of the factors that promote intensification.

From the theoretical perspective, it should be noted that testing in education is not the same thing as measurement. As Hargreaves (2005) explains, “tests are the instruments by which measurements are made” (p. 218). At the same time, tests are within the measurement paradigm because their essential purpose relies on the idea that learning can be analysed through presenting outcomes and achievement in the form of data. It is still questioned whether learning can be measured, but tests have existed for centuries and continue to exist because they enable at least some system of describing learning outcomes in quantitative terms. However, there is a significant shift in the modern world toward an emphasis on qualitative assessment.

One of the main aspects of the debate on testing in education is the distinction between national and international tests. In the UAE, the experience of introducing international testing standards and collecting feedback has had a rather positive effect because it launched various processes in the area of education improvement (Egbert, 2012). The situation was that the results of national tests showed a good performance across student groups, but the international testing revealed that the level of knowledge among the UAE students was lower than average. Due to this, the Ministry of Education implemented a series of initiatives to incorporate international standards in the national educational system. More importantly, educators and parents received valuable feedback about the actual performances of students.

Also, it is noteworthy that testing—both national and international—can be used as not only an instrument of measuring learning but also an instrument for improving it. According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), “[i]n too many cases, testing is used as the measure to judge whether change has occurred rather than as a mechanism to further enhance and consolidate learning by teachers or students” (p. 104). There is a growing recognition that this approach to education should be revised because testing, as part of assessment, is capable of making a much more significant contribution to the process of learning than quantifying students’ achievements.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Test-Preparation Practice

With the growing attention to assessment in education, more emphasis is put by researchers and practitioners on test-preparation as opposed to testing itself. It is recognised today that testing needs to reflect the achievement of certain learning outcomes, but the process of achieving them occurs for a student not at the time of taking a test but before that, during learning and, more specifically, during preparing for taking the test. From this perspective, it has been established that some existing practices of test-preparation are more beneficial in terms of attaining curricular aims defined in a particular educational course than other practices. There are two major types of considerations in distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate practices: considerations of ethics and considerations of educational defensibility.

First of all, it should be stressed that test-preparation is an element of education that contributes to several functions of assessment. These functions include gatekeeping, determining whether course objectives are met, feedback to teachers, and evaluating the quality of a curriculum (Eisner, 2005). Test-preparation is particularly important for establishing the successfulness of achieving course objectives. Also, Eisner (2005) emphasises that assignments given to students for the assessment of their academic performance should be designed in such a way that they reflect how students solve a problem and not merely what solutions they find. Often, when taking a test, students are required to merely check boxes, while the whole process of solving remains invisible to educators and those who evaluate test results. It is the test-preparation stage where approaches to solving are designed, which is why it is needed to promote appropriate practices in this regard.

To define appropriate test-preparation practices, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the results that a student shows upon taking a test and the actual mastery of learning outcomes achieved by the student (Meza & Watson, 2016). This relationship is exactly the criterion of test-preparation practices’ appropriateness that encompasses the principle of educational defensibility. This principle states that a test-preparation practice should not pursue increasing test results of a student without promoting the achievement of certain learning outcomes at the same time. In other words, any test-preparation practice that is aimed at technically increasing test scores instead of increasing the mastery of course outcomes is an inappropriate practice.

Meza and Watson (2016) define five categories of test-preparation practices. Previous-form preparation is giving to students actual assignments from previous tests to coach them for achieving higher scores. Current-form preparation is giving to students actual assignment from the test they are to take. Both are inappropriate because they violate educational defensibility; moreover, the latter is also unethical because it can as well be defined as cheating. More appropriate forms of preparation are generalised, same-format, and varied-format. Generalised test-taking preparation allows reflecting the students’ performance more profoundly. Same-format preparation may violate educational defensibility, but it is ethical. Varied-format preparation practice is considered the most appropriate because it represents a variety of test-item formats, thus complying with both ethics and defensibility. For the purpose of achieving course objectives, it is recommended to employ these three practices as opposed to the first two.

Assessment for Learners with Special Education Needs

Assessment in education has been attracting more attention of theorists, researchers, and practitioners within recent decades as not only a way to reflect on the successfulness of achieving learning outcomes but also a way to improve educational programs. The improvement occurs when assessment provides, along with data on how well students master their course objectives, feedback on what should be changed in curricula. For this to happen, it is necessary to enable a discussion about educational programs, i.e. they should be acknowledged as subject to improvement, and to establish a dialogue among educators, learners, and communities. Particularly remarkable results in this regard have been achieved in the area of education for people with special needs because this area has been neglected in mainstream education for a long time (“Narrative assessment,” 2009), and now it has become the environment where some of the advanced educational strategies and approaches are applied.

One of such approaches is so-called narrative assessment, i.e. evaluating students’ learning achievements through learning stories. Stories can be an effective assessment tool, but they also may be more difficult to apply to a real-life learning process. The difficulty is explained by recognising the differences between quantitative and qualitative approaches to assessment. Quantitative assessment is designed to present results and outcomes in the numerical form or scores, i.e. measured against particular scales. However, learning is a complicated process encompassing various aspects of intellectual and emotional activities of a person, which is why any quantification has limitations, while qualitative analysis is challenging due to the indefiniteness of evaluation criteria.

This is a major complication in assessment in education, and it is particularly daunting in education for learners with special needs because most quantitative methods are inapplicable, which prompted educators to develop better qualitative methods. One of such methods is the narrative assessment mentioned above. One of the educators who employed this method said, “Assessment through learning stories is personal, meaningful, respectful, and directive—such a positive way to describe learning” (“Narrative assessment,” 2009, p. 30). Through interacting with their students by means of learning stories, educators can assess the learning progress in the areas where it is invisible to mainstream assessment.

There are several ways of evaluating the effectiveness of assessment for learners with special needs, and one of them is comparing the results to the principles of giving good feedback (O’Neill, 2010), as it has been established that feedback is a crucial component of assessment. One of these principles is encouraging “positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem” (O’Neill, 2010, p. 2), and this is exactly the effect observed by educators who used narrative assessment: learners with special needs who had been unable to talk in classrooms started to interact with their peers and eventually made it to mainstream schools where they are appreciated as equal. Another principle is encouraging dialogues between educators and learners as well as among learners, and this principle is followed in narrative assessment, too, as these dialogues are the very essence of this type of assessment. Overall, it can be said that narrative assessment is an appropriate method for learners with special education needs, and the effectiveness of the method has been confirmed by both practitioners and learners’ communities.

Integrating Technology with Student-Centred Learning

Technological development is one of the main aspects of the modern world, and it plays a major role in education, too. Today, learners have extended access to technologies, which presumably can improve learning outcomes because information has become more available and more easily processed. However, theorists and practitioners also notice that easier access to information can have some adverse effects on the learning process because learners explore information more superficially than before, and there is a risk of reduction of knowledge retention (Buabeng-Andoh, 2012). All this poses a question: How should technology be integrated into learning so that the outcomes are optimal?

First of all, it should not be expected that technology alone will improve learning experiences and help achieve curricular aims. It is not the availability of technological advancements that improves education, but it is their proper application. Toyama (2015) states that “in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there” (para. 6). In other words, technologies can assist an educator in making the teaching process more efficient and the learning process easier and more enjoyable, but for this, the educator should be competent; otherwise, the application of technologies can turn out useless. From this perspective, what plays a crucial role in integrating technology with learning is the educator’s qualification, willingness and readiness to use technology, and the promotion of technology-related learning experiences.

According to Moeller and Reitzes (2011), a striking 43 per cent of students “feel unprepared to use technology as they look ahead to higher education or their work life” (p. 4). It indicates that almost a half of students recognise that modern technologies can offer much more valuable opportunities for these students’ further education and work than they feel they have learnt to use. Recommendations provided by the authors include training teachers so that they are more confident in using technologies and incorporating them into their teaching.

The main recommendation, however, is encouraging students to use technologies more, and a primary consideration in this recommendation is the learner-centred approach. In today’s education theory, the central position of a learner in education is widely acknowledged (Jonassen & Land, 2012). Therefore, it is important to regard a learner as a participant of the learning process and an active user of educational resources and materials, not as a recipient of education. Technology is exactly a tool that can promote student-centred learning. For example, online learning, as it enables easier access to educational materials, allows scheduling learning activities, and provides more education-related choices to a student, and additional media, such as social networking services, give students “the flexibility to direct their individual progress” (Moeller & Reitzes, 2011, p. 6). Therefore, both teachers and students should be more confident and more willing to use technologies in education, which will promote the student-centredness of learning and make learners more prepared for living in a world where the successful use of technology is a major factor of success.

Personal Insights, Opinions, and Thoughts

For me, assessment has always been a particularly emotional part of my education. Back in school, the most stressful learning experiences I had were associated not with overwhelming materials that I had to read and understand but with taking tests and doing well on them. I think that this is a somewhat unbalanced and unproductive approach to education if the main goal for a student is defined as receiving high scores on a test. One of my teachers used to give us assignments from previous tests; we completed them together in class and then compared the results to correct answers. This practice, which I now know is called previous-form preparation, violates the principle of educational defensibility, which states that any preparation practice that pursues improving students’ scores without contributing to better results in terms of achieving learning outcomes is an inappropriate practice. Now I understand why it should not be used.

Another teacher I had, a history teacher, used to repeat in classes, “History is dates.” She would give us quizzes once in while where we were expected to answer which historical event happened when. This is a simple way of assessing students’ knowledge because it is quantitative. But does it effectively reflect the successfulness of learning? If I had memorised all the dates, did it mean I understood history well? If I got only six dates right out of ten, did it mean I was 60 per cent competent in history? My answer today to all of these questions is no. Assessment should not pursue clarity and simplicity because the clearest and simplest assessment tools fail to grasp what is important in learning: understanding, applicability, and development.

Another aspect of assessment that I think is crucial is that it promotes the role of a learner. Properly designed, assessment not only provides data on academic performance of a student but also collects his or her feedback that can be used in improving a curriculum. This is important because it establishes a dialogue between learners and educators: a learner gets to be seen as a participant of the learning process and even the centre of it as opposed to being seen as a recipient of knowledge. Knowledge and skills cannot be simply put into a student’s head by a teacher; instead, what a teacher can do is to create an environment where those knowledge and skills can be learnt. Assessment is the process where the need for such an environment is particularly evident, which is why formative assessment should be used more extensively.

Finally, leadership is a major consideration in education, both for teachers and students. According to a study among students, one of the main perceptions is that leadership in learning is “the ability to influence direction” (Hofmeyer, Sheingold, Klopper, & Warland, 2015, p. 181), which is closely linked to student-centredness of education. Another study revealed that, for students, their teacher is a successful leader when he or she tries to be a type of teacher he or she would want to have as a student (Richards, 2012). I think that both students and teachers should pursue leadership in the process of education because it increases the number of opportunities for growth for a learner and the number of effective tools for an educator.


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