A typical academic session progresses in a linear manner core instruction with short assessments followed by a period of revision and the annual exam, which is supposed to evaluate a student’s knowledge. The purpose is to highlight learning gaps so that they can be mitigated and learning can be improved.
However, this objective remains unfulfilled — if students manage to get a certain percentage, they climb the academic ladder and move to the next grade, often with looming learning gaps and their basics remaining weak.
Like every other aspect of the education sector, the approach to and structure of assessments have undergone vast change. Though positive changes have occurred, they are not enough. Modes of assessment are yet to be genuinely impacted by technology. In recent times, we have witnessed the introduction of formative and summative assessments.
Summative assessments: These often hold high stakes, aiming to evaluate students’ learning at the end of instructional units. Midterm and final semester exams are some examples of summative assessments.
Formative assessments: This aim to monitor students’ learning progress and provide them with ongoing feedback. They can be a form of continuous checking for teachers to understand what mode of instruction works and what does not. They can be used to improve teaching methods. Group activities and informal quizzes are some examples of popular formative assessments that are being adopted in classrooms today.
Shift in approach: Today, teachers are designing bite-sized modules where the learning objectives are much more pronounced and measurable. This makes it easier to meet specific learning objectives as well as give a more comprehensive idea of whether students have been able to truly master the concepts. This objective is often met with formative assessments, which have addressed the problem to a large extent.
Students ought to be brought to the helm of their own learning. While designing an assessment rubric, teachers can inform students the factors based on which they would be assessed. This would help them understand the importance of the assessment. Further, instead of putting all the importance on content, teachers often undermine 21st century skills— creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.
Grades are still the end objective: The high-stake summative assessments are a mere glimpse of students’ abilities and do not provide inputs to improve learning outcomes. Thus, these occasional assessments need to take a backseat in academic sessions, and real learning needs to begin.
Boring: Similarly, formative assessments also have gaps. Although they have been lauded considerably because of their informal style and personalised nature, students with varying learning capacities are still subjected to the same set of questions. While some students may get bored with easy questions, others may get discouraged when presented with too many difficult questions.
Thus, these modes of assessment actually fail to serve their purpose of improving learning outcomes and have become mere grading tools to judge students’ capabilities.
Role of technology: Technology has a huge role to play in improving the quality of assessments. At present, it is being used only to mark multiple-choice questions. While this definitely reduces the burden of the teacher, technology has a lot more to offer. Adaptive assessments can help teachers identify the current state of a student’s understanding along with the learning gaps in the shortest possible time. Technology is truly democratic as it always assumes that all students are capable of attaining complete knowledge of every concept.
The mode of instruction, time required, etc, would just vary as per the different learning needs of each student. Assessments only evaluate students based on their knowledge, but fail to justify their performance. The information gained helps it understand their learning patterns, predict their future performance, and also point out reasons for their poor performance.
For instance, a student might have performed poorly due to ill health or distraction. We never really get to know the reasons. Future assessments need to point out these factors to truly evaluate a student’s performance. Technology can come to the rescue in such scenarios.
Assessments are supposed to be an aid in the learning process. However, they still scare students instead of empowering them. Exam fever is still a real cause of concern for many students. The personalisation of assessments can bring joy to the student along with good academic results.
The writer is chief executive officer and co-founder, Next Education