THE NATURE OF ASSESSMENT
This unit introduces you to some important concepts associated with ascertaining whether
objectives have been achieved or not. Basically, the unit takes you through the meanings of
assessment, test, measurement and evaluation in education.
Their functions are also discussed. You should understand the fine distinctions between these concepts and the purpose of each as you will have recourse to them later in this course and as a professional teacher.
1.Define the terms assessment, measurement, evaluation and test and determine the relationships between them.
2. Give practical examples of each of these terms.
3. explain the scales of measurement: Nominal, Ordinal, Interval, Ratio and provide practical examples
Definition of Concepts and Terms
Assessment: The process of obtaining information that is used for making decisions about students, curricula and programs, and educational policy. It includes the full range of procedures used to gain information about student learning. These procedures may be formal (pencil and paper tests) or informal (observations). Certain concepts and terms are associated with assessment. These are tests, measurement and evaluation.
Test: A task or series of tasks, which are used to measure specific traits or attributes in people. In educational settings, tests include paper and pencil instruments, which contain questions that students and pupils respond to. The responses provided to the questions help the test giver to obtain an estimate of the specific trait being measured. It answers the question, ‘How well does the individual perform?’ Two interpretations can be given to scores from tests. These are norm-referenced and criterion-referenced interpretations.
Norm-referenced interpretation: These describe test scores or performance in terms of a person’s position in a reference group that has been administered the assessment. The reference group is called the norm group. For example, a student’s performance may place him/her as the 15th out of 45. Or a student doing better than 90% of the class.
Criterion-referenced interpretation: These describe test scores or performance in terms of the kinds of tasks a person with a given score can do. The performance can be compared to a pre-established standard or criterion. For example, a student may be able to solve 8 problems out of 10 concerning fractions. A level of performance can be established at 6.
Measurement: The process of assigning numbers to the attributes or traits possessed by persons, events or a set of objects according to specific rules. Educational measurement is the assignment of numerals to such traits as achievement, aptitude, and performance. It is limited to the quantitative descriptions of students. It answers the question, ‘How much?’
Measurement involves three main steps. These are:
- Identifying and providing a clear definition of the attribute/trait to be measured.
- Determining the set of procedures/operations by which the attribute is to be manifested.
- Establishing a set of procedures/rules for quantifying the attribute/trait.
Scales of Measurement
Depending upon the traits/attributes/characteristics and the way they are measured, different kinds of data result representing different scales of measurement. For example, the number 4 can be interpreted in different ways depending on the source.
There are 4 types of measurement scales: Nominal, Ordinal, Interval, and Ratio
Nominal Scales: A nominal scale classifies persons or objects into two or more categories. Whatever the classification, a person can only be in one category, and members of a given category have a common set of characteristics. For identification purposes, categories are numbered.
Gender, Male 1, Female 2.
Halls of Residence: Atlantic 1, Oguaa 2, Adehye 3, Casford 4, VALCO 5, Kwame Nkrumah 6.
Ordinal Scales: An ordinal scale not only classifies subjects but also ranks them in terms of the degree to which they possess a characteristic/attribute of interest. An ordinal scale puts subjects in order from highest to lowest, from most to least. With respect to height, 5 students can be ranked from 1 to 5, the subject with rank 1 being the shortest.
Though ordinal scales do indicate that some subjects are higher or better than others, they do not indicate how much higher or better. i.e. intervals between the ranks are not equal.
Interval Scales: An interval scale has all the characteristics of both nominal and ordinal scales and in addition has equal intervals. The zero point is arbitrary and does not mean the absence of the characteristics/trait. Values can be added and subtracted to and from each other. But not multiplied or divided. Examples include Celsius temperature, academic achievement.
Ratio Scales: A ratio scale has all the advantages of the types of scales and in addition it has a meaningful true zero point. Height, Weight and time are examples. Values can be added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. 60 minutes can be said to be 3 times as long as 20 minutes.
Evaluation: Stufflebeam (1973) defined evaluation as “the process of delineating, obtaining, and providing useful information for judging decision alternatives”. The main concern of evaluation in the classroom is to arrive at a judgment on the worth or effectiveness of teaching and learning. Evaluation may either be formative or summative.
Formative evaluation is the process of judging the worth of teaching and learning constantly during the period of instruction. It requires the gathering of detailed information on frequent occasions through such means as teacher observations, classroom questions, home assignments and short tests or quizzes. The main purpose is to provide feedback to both the teacher and the learner about progress being made.
Summative evaluation is the process of judging the worth of teaching and learning at the end of the period of instruction. It is judgmental in nature. It attempts to determine to what extent the broad objectives of teaching and learning have been attained.
Ogunniyi (1984, p. 113) defined continuous assessment as ‘a formative evaluation process concerned with finding out, in a systematic manner, the overall gains that a student has made in terms of knowledge, attitudes and skills after a given set of learning experiences’. The definition implies that a student’s final grade after a programme of instruction is an aggregation of all the performances exhibited in the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains during the duration of the course.
Six desirable characteristics are expected in a continuous assessment programme. It is expected to be cumulative, comprehensive, diagnostic, formative, guidance-oriented, and systematic (Ipaye, 1982, Ogunniyi, 1984; Ministry of Education Ghana, 1988).
- Continuous assessment is cumulative
The final grade awarded a student at the end of the term or year is an accumulation of all the attainments through out the term or year. Any decision on the student is based on all the scores obtained in all measurements during the period under review.
A student for example might be declared to have attained the acceptable level of mastery in Mathematics to warrant a promotion. This means that the sum total of all his scores in class assignments, homework, weekly tests, mid-term tests, end of term tests, class discussions and projects, reached the desired level of competence. The decision does not centre on only one score in an end-of-year examination. Any decision made on the student therefore considers all the previous decisions made about him.
- Continuous assessment is comprehensive
Opportunities are provided for the assessment of the total personality of the student. This involves the assessment of tasks, activities and outcomes and demonstrated in the cognitive (knowledge), affective (attitude) and psychomotor (skill) domains. It must however be emphasised that these three domains must not always be included in the programme before the process is described as continuous assessment.
In addition, many types of evaluation procedures are used. These include teacher-made tests, classroom observations, class assignments and projects, oral questions standardized tests, interviews and autobiographies. The score obtained from using all these procedures are combined to arrive at a final grade or classification of the student.
- Continuous assessment is diagnostic
Continuous assessment involves a constant and continual monitoring of a student’s performance and achievement. This process enables each student’s strengths and weaknesses to be identified. It also enables the teacher to identify which students’ have difficulties and problems and in what areas. With this knowledge, specific remedial actions are recommended and taken.
- Continuous assessment is formative
Continuous assessment allows for immediate and constant feedback to be provided to the student on his performance. The student, often with the help of the teacher and school counsellor, can analyse the feedback results. On the basis of the information derived for such an analysis, various strategies are adopted.
- Continuous assessment is guidance-oriented
Guidance aims at helping the individual to accept his/her ‘worth’. He/she identifies and accepts strengths and weaknesses. He/she works hard to consolidate the strong areas and improve upon the weak areas.
Continuous assessment aims at playing this guidance role. As the student is actively involved in the teaching-learning activities and tasks, his areas of weakness and strength are easily identified early, and from time to time. The teacher then helps the student to strengthen further his strong areas and attempts to improve upon his weaknesses, to attain the level of mastery needed. The student is thus directed and motivated in his learning.
Learning and taking tests is not an end in ‘itself’. It is a step to achieve the total growth and development of the student. Continuous assessment provides the facts and figures and all the necessary school information needed to goad the student to achieve growth and development. It also provides the necessary information for the student to decide his future career and his world of work.
- Continuous assessment is systematic
Continuous assessment operates on a well-scheduled programme. Assessment is not spontaneous. A plan is desirable at the beginning of each year, term and week. There could be long term, medium term and short-term plans. The plan should spell out what measurements are to be made. This includes the types of traits and behaviours to be assessed, and the procedure for assessing them. The procedures should indicate the types of class assignments and exercises, homework and projects, class tests and non-test techniques to be employed to collect the relevant data.
A decision needs to be taken on the dates and periods on which the various measurements will be made. It is also important to include in the plan the types of instruments to be used. These could be teacher-made tests, standardised tests, interview schedules questionnaires, project sheets, observation schedules and checklists. Specific times should also be stated for the filling in the scores that students obtain on the appropriate forms.
- Continuous assessment provides an excellent picture of a student’s performance over a period of time. In summative evaluation, a student’s attainment in a course of studies for example is measured by a single shot examination. However, several influences like, malpractices, illnesses and inability to follow instructions influence a student’s final score. The reliability of such scores is therefore doubtful. In continuous assessment, judgement on a student’s performance is based on several other previous performances. This enables the effect of extraneous variables to be minimised a more representative sample of his performance is arrived at.
- It enables the classroom teacher as well as the school administration to be actively and more meaningfully involved in the assessment of the students throughout the period of teaching and learning. The teacher is expected to be alert, diligent and consistent in assessing the various behaviours expected. He gives exercises, assignments and tests; scores them and discusses results with the pupil. He also observes students behaviours in various domains and provides help where needed. The school s administration also provides the ‘back up’ services like the provision of stationery needed for class assignments, projects, tests and questionnaires.
- It enables the measurements of the three important domains in the taxonomy of education objectives viz cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. This is important because while the cognitive objectives are measured under test and examination conditions, affective and psychomotor abilities such as courtesy, sociability, creativeness, leadership and responsibility could only be measured over a reasonable time lapse, and over repeated occurrences of such abilities. In the traditional one shot examination system, the emphasis has always been on the cognitive abilities. This ultimately provides a biased outcome of the students’ educational attainment. The possibility of spreading the measurement net over the other areas makes the assessment of the students’ exhibited behaviours more total.
- It helps to minimise the students’ fears and anxieties about failure in the examinations. The fear of performing poorly leads students to engage in examination malpractices such as copying and the exchange of answer scripts. Since the student is aware that several scores will be used to assess his final performance, tensions are often reduced. More desirable learning habits are developed. Rote learning is discouraged. Creativity and initiative are encouraged. A poor performance in one course is counter-balanced by an improved performance in another. Failure in one aspect of the course of study does not spell the doom of the student. The student has a great advantage here in that he has several opportunities to demonstrate the behaviours and objectives being measured.
- Continuous assessment encourages students to work assiduously throughout the period of teaching and learning. The student becomes more alert in the class. He is punctual and attends classes regularly. This attitude comes about as a result of the fact that every stage of the instructional process is assessed and this counts towards the ultimate grade or score he would obtain. He knows that complacency, absenteeism, laziness and malingering would prove disastrous to his goals in academic achievement, and he therefore works hard.
- Education under the traditional summative evaluation system could be termed, “syllabus-ish” or “syllabus-pulled”. This means that the emphasis is purely on what the syllabus prescribes as related to internal and external examinations. Any activity or task, which is not directly related to the syllabus for the examinations, is met with profound resistance from students. Continuous assessment discourages this attitude to a very large extent. Topics which are found relevant and interesting are included in the teaching and learning process. The aim here is that teaching should bring about a total growth in the individual and not only passing examinations.
- Constant feedback is given and this provides the groundwork for teachers to engage in diagnostic teaching. Feedback enables the teacher to identify the weaknesses of individual students early and across tasks. He is then in a position to provide remedial and individualised teaching. This corrective action reduces frustration, disappointment and disillusionment on the part of students. The student is thus helped to progress. Continuous feedback guides the student to the most effective means of improving his performance.
8. Record keeping is an important aspect of the teaching and learning process. Records acknowledge the totality of what pupils have done in order to improve their motivation and help schools identify their needs more closely. It also provides a testimonial respected and valued by employers and colleges.
Records also help to place students in appropriate stages when they transfer to another institution. Continuous assessment is a great instrument in the achievement of these goals. It provides the opportunity for the collection, preparation and keeping of up-to-date records on students. This data includes family and health data, academic record, interests and hobbies, work experience and special talents.
9. Parents are provided with better and clearer pictures of their wards’ performance and achievement in school over a period of time and learning experience. The “One Shot” traditional examination in most cases colours the actual performance of the student because of the variety of influences that affect the performance of a student. Due to repeated performances on various activities and tests in continuous assessment, the influence of these factors is greatly minimised. Parents thus receive a more accurate information on their wards and are put in a better position to plan more relevant programmes towards the future careers of their wards.
Even though continuous assessment achieves much in terms of student and teacher evaluation of the instructional process and product, there are problems and weaknesses.
- Continuous assessment brings about an increase in the workload of teachers. Since the process is systematic and comprehensive, the teacher is expected to be active in designing and producing a variety of assessment instruments. In addition, he is expected to be scoring the class tests, assignments, projects and at the same time taking observations. He is also expected to provide up-to-date records on each pupil and simultaneously be involved in remedial and individual teaching. Where classes are large in size (and in Ghana most classes are large,) the load becomes unbearable. The teachers then resort to unfair means in providing the requisite data for each pupil.
- To implement a continuous assessment programme, it is assumed that teachers have the requisite skill in test construction. However, in Ghana, most Ghanaian teachers lack the skills required for constructing tests, because most initial teacher training programmes do not make provision for a course in testing. In cases where teachers underwent a course of instruction in testing and assessment, few teachers use their knowledge in test construction. The effect is that, since each teacher designs his own instrument, the testing instruments yield unreliable information. Standards are also bound to vary from teacher to teacher.
- In Ghana, one problem is the inadequacy of materials and equipment. Continuous assessment is costly in terms of materials. Finance is needed for the procurement of material and equipment such as cumulative record cards, stationery for testing instrument, chairs and tables, and well-built classrooms. The sizes of the classes are such that a huge financial outlay is needed. The experience in the Ghanaian classrooms is that these equipment and material are woefully inadequate. This situation puts great inhibition on the success of any continuous assessment programme.
- Continuous assessment, especially in the first and second cycle levels, means less dependence on an external examining body. This implies that the uniformity that goes with external written examinations in the form of standard test items and scoring, are reduced to some extent. The fate of the individual student lies more in the hands of the classroom teacher. This situation generates fears, doubts and apprehensions in the minds of the public about the degree of fairness in assessing the achievement of students. It also makes it difficult to compare the performances from different schools since there is less uniformity in the use of instruments and techniques in assessing the performances of students.
- In the first and second cycle institutions, certificates obtained are based on performances and achievements in external examinations in Ghana. This situation enables the certificates to have credibility, since efforts are made to maintain standards across years and test items. However, with the continuous assessment, if schools award certificates based on the attainments of their own students, standards will vary from school to school as well as certificates. The credibility of certificates becomes doubtful in most cases. To handle this problem, schools contribute 30% of the total scores of each student in a subject while an external examining body (WAEC) contributes 70%.
- Another problem is that of supervision. Continuous assessment requires co-operation and co-ordination at different levels. Close supervision is needed at all levels. Unfortunately, supervisors in most cases who are heads of institutions are already laden with loads of work. They are therefore not effective in their supervisory roles.
- There is also an additional problem of record maintenance. Continuous assessment requires the collection and storage of records. In most institutions, adequate storage facilities are not available. Current storage and retrieval facilities like steel cabinets, personal computers and word processors are lacking in institutions. Handling continuous assessment data is therefore extremely difficult.
Role of the Ghanaian teacher
The Ministry of Education, as a matter of policy expects each teacher to:
(1) Give class assignments/exercises fortnightly and record the scores of four of them with a maximum score of 10 each;
(2) Conduct three class tests in a term with a subtotal of 40;
(3) Give pupils at least four projects/homework in a term with a subtotal of 20.
The three assessments give a total score of 100, which is scaled down to 30% as the internal mark for each pupil. The end of term examination is given 70%.
At the end of the junior and senior secondary schools, all the scores a pupil obtains are scaled to 30% and forwarded to the WAEC where 70% is obtained for external assessment.
For the policy to be successful, teachers are expected to perform the following roles.
- The teacher must accept the philosophy of continuous assessment. He must be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that continuous assessment is a better form of assessing students’ academic attainment than the traditional summative system.
- The teacher needs to be knowledgeable about continuous assessment. He must know the characteristics of continuous assessment, the strengths and weaknesses of the system as a procedure for assessing students’ knowledge, attitude and manipulative skills. He must clearly understand and accept his roles and responsibilities as outlined by the programme, and be willing to contribute to its successful implementation.
- At the beginning of each academic year and term (or semester), the teacher must make a timetable for the assessments to be made. He must set specific dates on which the class tests, assignments/exercises, projects/homework tasks will be performed. He also needs to decide, what instruments to use in his assessment.
- The teacher must break the learning programme of the period of instruction into smaller, specific and well-defined units. A level of mastery must be set for each unit.
- The teacher must assess the learning outcomes and performances at the end of each unit of instruction. He must follow the timetable laid out for assessment but should allow some degree of flexibility.
- The teacher must spread the assessment over all areas of student’s behaviour. These are the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. Appropriate assessment instruments such as pencil and paper tests, observation, autobiographies, questionnaires, checklist, rating scales and inventories should be used.
- The teacher must formulate measurable, specific and attainable instructional objectives for each unit for instruction. This helps him to make his teaching more effective and meaningful. It also makes his assessments easier since these are based on the objectives set out.
- The teacher must provide constant feedback. Class assignments and exercises, projects, tests and home wok must be promptly scored and returned to the students. This helps to direct and motivate student learning.
- The teacher must record all the assessment of the student in all the areas of learning and instruction in the appropriate records. This must be done promptly at the end of each measurement. The records must be well kept and maintained.
- The teacher must be involved in remedial and individualised teaching. At the end of teaching assessment the teacher should find out whether the whole class attained the required level of mastery. Remedial programmes should be organised if the requisite level of mastery was not reached. In addition, the teacher must also devote time to individuals who do not perform well in the class assignments, exercises and tests and have difficulties.
- The teacher must also engage in guidance and counselling. He must identify the weaknesses and strengths of students in the various areas of learning. He should then use the information to guide and counsel the student for his full personal development and growth as well as preparing the student for his future career.
- The teacher must engage in constant evaluation of himself and of the continuous assessment programme. The scores obtained from the various assessments should be used to measure his own performance and the effectiveness of his methods and techniques. He must also evaluate the success of the programme regularly to identify the lapses and improve upon them. This could be done weekly, monthly and at the term/semester.
Current trends in assessment in Ghana
The form of assessment in the new educational structure and reform, being implemented from September 2008, is based on two concepts and procedures. These are:
- Assessment is based on profile dimensions of each subject.
- School-based assessment (SBA) replaces continuous assessment.
Assessment is based on profile dimensions of each subject.
Definition of Profile Dimensions
A ‘dimension’ is a psychological unit for describing a particular learning behaviour. More than one dimension constitutes a profile of dimensions. A specific objective may be stated with an action verb as follows: The pupil will be able to describe….. etc. Being able to “describe” something after the instruction has been completed means that the pupil has acquired “knowledge“. Being able to explain, summarize, give examples, etc. means that the pupil has understood the lesson taught.
Similarly, being able to develop, plan, solve problems, construct, etc. means that the pupil can “apply” the knowledge acquired in some new context. Each of the specific objectives in each syllabus contains an “action verb” that describes the behaviour the pupil will be able to demonstrate after the instruction. “Knowledge”, “Understanding” and “Application”, etc. are dimensions that should be the prime focus of teaching and learning in schools. It has been realized unfortunately that schools still teach the low ability thinking skills of knowledge and understanding and ignore the higher ability thinking skills. Instruction in most cases has tended to stress knowledge acquisition to the detriment of the higher ability behaviours such as application, analysis, etc.
The persistence of this situation in the school system means that pupils will only do well on recall items and questions and perform poorly on questions that require higher ability thinking skills such as application of mathematical principles and problem solving. For there to be any change in the quality of people who go through the school system, pupils should be encouraged to apply their knowledge, develop analytical thinking skills, develop plans, generate new and creative ideas and solutions, and use their knowledge in a variety of ways to solve problems while still in school.
Each action verb indicates the underlying profile dimension of each particular specific objective. Teachers are to read each objective carefully to know the profile dimension toward which you have to teach. The major profile dimensions are:
- Knowledge and Understanding (KU)
- Application of Knowledge/Use of Knowledge (AK/UK)
- Attitudes and Values (AV)
- Practical Skills (PS)
In developing assessment procedures, select specific objectives in such a way that you will be able to assess a representative sample of the syllabus objectives. Each specific objective in the syllabus is considered a criterion to be achieved by the pupil. When you develop a test that consists of items or questions that are based on a representative sample of the specific objectives taught, the test is referred to as a “Criterion-Referenced Test”. In many cases, a teacher cannot test all the objectives taught in a term, in a year etc. The assessment procedure you use i.e. class tests, home work, projects etc. must be developed in such a way that it will consist of a sample of the important objectives taught over a period.
School-based assessment (SBA) replaces continuous assessment
School Based Assessment
A new School Based Assessment system (SBA), formally referred to as Continuous Assessment is in use in Ghana as part of the new Educational Reforms starting September 2008. SBA is a very effective system for teaching and learning if carried out properly. The new SBA system is designed to provide schools with an internal assessment system that will help schools to achieve the following purposes:
- Standardize the practice of internal school-based assessment in all schools in the country.
- Provide reduced assessment tasks for each of the primary school subjects.
- Provide teachers with guidelines for constructing assessment items/questions and other assessment tasks.
- Introduce standards of achievement in each subject and in each class of the school system.
- Provide guidance in marking and grading of test items/questions and other assessment tasks.
- Introduce a system of moderation that will ensure accuracy and reliability of teachers’ marks.
- Provide teachers with advice on how to conduct remedial instruction on difficult areas of the syllabus to improve pupil performance.
The marks for the SBA should together constitute the School Based Assessment component marked out of 60 per cent. The emphasis is to improve students’ learning by encouraging them to perform at a higher level. The SBA will hence consist of:
- End-of-month tests
- Home work assignments (specially designed for SBA)
The SBA system will consist of 12 assessments a year instead of the 33 assessments in the previous continuous assessment system. This will mean a reduction by 64% of the work load compared to the previous continuous assessment system. The 12 assessments are labeled as Task 1, Task 2, Task 3 and Task 4. Task 1-4 will be administered in Term 1; Tasks 5-8 will be administered in Term 2, and Tasks 9-12 administered in Term 3.
Task 1 will be administered as an individual test coming at the end of the first month of the term. The equivalent of Task 1 will be Task 5 and Task 9 to the administered in Term 2 and Term 3 respectively.
Task 2 will be administered as a Group Exercise and will consist of two or three instructional objectives that the teacher considers difficult to teach and learn. The selected objectives could also be those objectives considered very important and which therefore need pupils to put in more practice. Task 2 will be administered at the end of the second month in the term.
Task 3 will also be administered as individual test under the supervision of the class teacher at the end of the 11th or 12 week of the term.
Task 4 (and also Task 8 and Task 12) will be a project to be undertaken throughout the term and submitted at the end of the term. Schools will be supplied with 9 project topics divided into three topics for each term. A pupil is expected to select one project topic for each term. Projects for the second term will be undertaken by teams of pupils as Group Projects. Projects are intended to encourage pupils to apply knowledge and skills acquired in the term to write an analytic or investigative paper, write a poem (as may be required in English and Ghanaian Languages), use science and mathematics to solve a problem or produce a physical three-dimensional product as may be required in Creative Arts and in Natural Science.
Apart from the SBA, teachers are expected to use class exercises and home work as processes for continually evaluating pupils’ class performance, and as a means for encouraging improvements in learning performance.
The end-of-term examination is a summative assessment system and should consist of a sample of the knowledge and skills pupils have acquired in the term. The end-of-term test for Term 3 should be composed of items/questions based on the specific objectives studied over the three terms, using a different weighting system such as to reflect the importance of the work done in each term in appropriate proportions. For example, a teacher may build an end of term 3 test in such a way that it would consist of the 20% of the objectives studied in Term 1, 20% of the objectives studied in Term 2, and 60% of the objectives studied in Term 3.
Combining SBA marks and End-of-Term Examination Marks
The new SBA system is important for raising pupils’ school performance. For this reason, the 60 marks for the SBA will be scaled to 50 in schools. The total marks for the end of term test will also be scaled to 50 before adding the SBA marks and end-of-term examination marks to determine pupils’ end of term results. The SBA and the end-of-term test marks will hence be combined in equal proportions of 50:50. The equal proportions will affect only assessment in the school system. It will not affect the SBA mark proportion of 30% used by WAEC for determining examination results at the BECE.
To improve assessment and grading and also introduce uniformity in schools, it is recommended that schools adopt the following grade boundaries for assigning grades:
Grade A: 80 – 100% – Excellent
Grade B: 70 – 79% – Very Good
Grade C: 60 – 69% – Good
Grade D: 45 – 59% – Credit (Satisfactory)
Grade E: 35 – 44% – Pass
Grade F: ≤ 34% – Fail
The grading system presented above shows the letter grade system and equivalent grade boundaries. In assigning grades to pupils’ test results, or any form of evaluation, you may apply the above grade boundaries and the descriptors. The descriptors (Excellent, Very Good etc) indicate the meaning of each grade. For instance, the grade boundary for “Excellent” consists of scores from 80 – 100. Writing “80%” for instance, without writing the meaning of the grade, or the descriptor for the grade i.e. “Excellent”, does not provide the pupil with enough information to evaluate his/her performance in the assessment. You therefore have to write the meaning of the grade alongside the score you write. Apart from the score and the grade descriptor, it will be important also to write a short diagnosis of the points the pupil should consider in order to do better in future tests etc.
Comments such as the following may also be added to the grades:
Keep it up
Could do better
Not serious in class
More room for improvement, etc.
Note that the grade boundaries above are also referred to as grade cut-off scores. When you adopt a fixed cut-off score grading system as in this example, you are using the criterion-referenced grading system. By this system a pupil must make a specified score to earn the appropriate grade. This system of grading challenges pupils to study harder to earn better grades. It is hence very useful for achievement testing and grading.
General Principles of Assessment
- Test developer must be clear about the learning target to be assessed. This involves clearly specifying the intended learning goals and helps to select the appropriate assessment technique.
- The assessment technique selected must match the learning target. The main criterion is whether the procedure is the most effective in measuring the learning target.
- Assessment techniques must serve the needs of the learners. They should provide meaningful feedback to the learners about how closely they have approximated the learning targets.
- Multiple indicators of performance provide a better assessment of the extent to which a student has attained a given learning target. Assessment needs to be comprehensive.
- Proper use of assessment procedures requires that the user is aware of the limitations of each technique. In interpreting the results of the assessment, these limitations must be considered.
- Assessment is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. Assessment provides information upon which decisions are based.
- Evidence needs to be provided that the interpretations and use of students’ assessment results are appropriate and reliable.
Purposes of Assessment
Assessment provides information for decisions about students, curricula and programs, and educational policy. These decisions are:
- Instructional Management decisions
- Selection decisions
- Placement decisions
- Counselling and Guidance decisions
- Credentialing and Certification decisions
Instructional Management decisions
- Assessment provides knowledge about the readiness of individuals (pupils, students) to learn a new set of curricular content.
- Assessment enables the teacher to set realistic instructional goals and objectives for the class as well as individual pupils.
- Assessment helps the teacher to discover the learning difficulties of the pupils and to provide remedial action. This diagnostic decision asks the question, ‘what learning activities will best adapt to this student’s individual requirements and thereby maximize the student’s opportunities to attain the chosen learning target?
- Assessment aids the teacher in the selection of the best instructional technique to adopt for the class and for each course.
- Assessment helps in the evaluation of the degree to which objectives in the classroom are being achieved.
- Assessment enables the teacher to determine the progress made by each individual student in learning.
- Assessment serves as a source of motivation and directs and facilitates students’ learning. It helps them to set goals.
- Assessment provides feedback or knowledge of results to the students. This helps students to identify their own strengths and weaknesses as well as progress.
- Assessment enables the teacher to assign grades to students which provide a record of their progress and achievement
Assessments provide information to select the right calibre of people for admission, promotion, and awards of prizes. Those not acceptable are rejected.
- Assessments provide information to place students in courses and classes where they are likely to succeed in the future.
- Assessments provide the basis for grouping individuals for instruction in view of the individual differences.
Counselling and Guidance decisions
- Assessments aid in providing guidance and counselling in social and psychological adjustment problems that affect the pupils’ performances in the classroom.
- Assessments are used to assist students to explore and choose careers and in directing them to prepare for the careers they select.
Credentialing and Certification decisions
Assessments enable students to acquire certificates that are needed for employment in the world of work.
Assessment for Learning (AFL)
Assessment for learning (Afl) is a recent term describing one of the important purposes of assessment. It is one of the powerful ways of improving learning and raising standards (Black and William, 1998). Assessment for learning (Afl) is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.
Black and William (1998) also define assessment for learning as “all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged”.
Assessment for learning (Afl) focuses on the gap between where a learner is in his/her learning, and where he/she needs to be – the desired goal. This can be achieved through processes such as sharing criteria with learners, effective questioning and feedback.
Assessment for learning (Afl)
- Comprises two phases—initial or diagnostic assessment and formative assessment
- Assessment can be based on a variety of information sources (e.g., portfolios, works in progress, teacher observation, conversation)
- Verbal or written feedback to the student is primarily descriptive and emphasizes strengths, identifies challenges, and points to next steps
- As teachers check on understanding they adjust their instruction to keep students on track
- No grades or scores are given – record-keeping is primarily anecdotal and descriptive
- Occurs throughout the learning process, from the outset of the course of study to the time of summative assessment
Assessment for learning (Afl) is distinguished from Assessment of learning (Aol) which is carried out purposely for grading and reporting. Aol involves decisions about the merit of student performance in relation to standards of performance
It is designed to measure student achievement and gauge what they have learned.
Aol takes place at a point in time for the purpose of summarizing the current status of student achievement.
It has well established guidelines including:
- It is accompanied by a number or letter grade (summative).
- It compares one student’s achievement with standards.
- The results can be communicated to the student and parents.
- It occurs at the end of the learning unit.
The UK Assessment Reform Group (1999) identified the following seven key characteristics of assessment for learning.
- It is embedded in a view of teaching and learning of which it is an essential part.
- It involves sharing learning goals with learners.
- It aims to help pupils to know and to recognise the standards for which they are aiming.
- It involves pupils in self-assessment [and peer assessment].
- It provides feedback that leads to pupils recognising their next steps and how to take
- It is underpinned by the confidence that every student can improve.
- It involves both teacher and pupils reviewing and reflecting on assessment data.
The Assessment Reform Group in the UK in 2002 derived 10 principles for guidance in assessment for learning. These principles are explained below.
1. Assessment for learning should be part of effective planning of teaching and learning
A teacher’s planning should provide opportunities for both learner and teacher to obtain and use information about progress towards learning goals. It also has to be flexible to respond to initial and emerging ideas and skills. Planning should include strategies to ensure that learners understand the goals they are pursuing and the criteria that will be applied in assessing their work. How learners will receive feedback, how they will take part in assessing their learning and how they will be helped to make further progress should also be planned.
2. Assessment for learning should focus on how students learn
The process of learning has to be in the minds of both learner and teacher when assessment is planned and when the evidence is interpreted. Learners should become as aware of the ‘how’ of their learning as they are of the ‘what’.
3. Assessment for learning should be recognised as central to classroom practice
Much of what teachers and learners do in classrooms can be described as assessment. That is, tasks and questions prompt learners to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills. What learners say and do is then observed and interpreted, and judgements are made about how learning can be improved. These assessment processes are an essential part of everyday classroom practice and involve both teachers and learners in reflection, dialogue and decision making.
4. Assessment for learning should be regarded as a key professional skill for teachers
Teachers require the professional knowledge and skills to: plan for assessment; observe learning; analyse and interpret evidence of learning; give feedback to learners and support learners in self-assessment. Teachers should be supported in developing these skills through initial and continuing professional development.
5. Assessment for learning should be sensitive and constructive because any assessment has an emotional impact
Teachers should be aware of the impact that comments, marks and grades can have on learners’ confidence and enthusiasm and should be as constructive as possible in the feedback that they give. Comments that focus on the work rather than the person are more constructive for both learning and motivation.
6. Assessment for learning should take account of the importance of learner motivation
Assessment that encourages learning fosters motivation by emphasising progress and achievement rather than failure. Comparison with others who have been more successful is unlikely to motivate learners. It can also lead to their withdrawing from the learning process in areas where they have been made to feel they are ‘no good’. Motivation can be preserved and enhanced by assessment methods which protect the learner’s autonomy, provide some choice and constructive feedback, and create opportunity for self-direction.
7. Assessment for learning should promote commitment to learning goals and a shared understanding of the criteria by which they are assessed
For effective learning to take place learners need to understand what it is they are trying to achieve – and want to achieve it. Understanding and commitment follows when learners have some part in deciding goals and identifying criteria for assessing progress. Communicating assessment criteria involves discussing them with learners using terms that they can understand, providing examples of how the criteria can be met in practice and engaging learners in peer and self-assessment.
8. Learners should receive constructive guidance about how to improve
Learners need information and guidance in order to plan the next steps in their learning. Teachers should:
- pinpoint the learner’s strengths and advise on how to develop them
- be clear and constructive about any weaknesses and how they might be addressed
- provide opportunities for learners to improve upon their work.
9. Assessment for learning develops learners’ capacity for self-assessment so that they can become reflective and self-managing
Independent learners have the ability to seek out and gain new skills, new knowledge and new understandings. They are able to engage in self-reflection and to identify the next steps in their learning. Teachers should equip learners with the desire and the capacity to take charge of their learning through developing the skills of self-assessment.
10. Assessment for learning should recognise the full range of achievements of all learners
Assessment for learning should be used to enhance all learners’ opportunities to learn in all areas of educational activity. It should enable all learners to achieve their best and to have their efforts recognised.
Assessment for learning (Afl) therefore results in assessments that:
- Encourage, not discourage;
- Build confidence, not anxiety;
- Bring hope, not hopelessness;
- Offer success, not frustration;
In this unit, we have distinguished clearly between assessment, test measurement, and evaluation.
- Assessment is the process of organizing measurement data into interpretable forms. It gives evidence of change and the direction of change without value judgement.
- Testing is an important component of teaching-learning activities. It is an integral part of the curriculum. Through tests, the teacher measures learners’ progress, learning outcomes, learning benefits, and areas where teaching should focus on for better learning.
- Measurement is seen as a process of assigning numbers to objects, quantities or events in other to give quantitative meanings to such qualities.
- Evaluation is the estimation of the worth of a thing, process or programmes in order to reach meaningful decisions about that thing, process or programme. It calls for evidence of effectiveness, suitability of goodness of the programme or process.
- Evaluation serves a number of purposes in education
- Evaluation could be formative or summative. The two serve different purposes in the classroom.
We have explained what assessment is and its purpose in education.