What is the value of assessment?


Oh, the end of the year…


It’s at the end of the year when all of those tests and grades come in, that I always hesitate a bit and question the value of assessment.  Often happen to you? The major question for me has always been:

Do tests at the end of a semester really drive students to solidify what was developed in class, and even expand on it… or is it “in and out of their heads” within the next month?

Depends a lot on the curriculum, the administration and of course on us as teachers.

Do you often ask your students, post-class, what they thought of the test, and if it was a valuable part of the course?  To be quite honest, it can be uncomfortable doing so, as on some level you’re asking them to evaluate you, so all of a sudden you’re the one being tested!

When I was a student, the tests that I felt were valuable were the ones that dealt with material parallel to what we had studied, and yet made me take one step further in my learning; they contained “new material” in a sense and called on not only what we had learned, but how that understanding could be applied elsewhere.

Just a quick reflective post as it is… that time of the year.  Would love to what’s going on in your mind this year as the semester wraps up, and assessment is the name of the game.

Cheers, Brad


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  • Joy Kirr

    This year I had my typical end-of-the-year group projects for my 7th graders, to wrap up their literature circle group work. Going through my head as some of them worked tediously, some finished early (and it looked fine from afar), and some groups had manners who didn’t show, or who blew off their jobs… So I decided, after each group presented (the last day to get grades in), to let students choose, individually and privately with me, to post this grade or not. It was about half and half. I let them see the grade, go back to Edline and do the calculations if they chose, and report back to me. I liked it, and I think they did, too! Now the question is… Do I even DO this project next year?!? Thanks for your post! I’m thankful we don’t have final tests we NEED to give, but I’m always wondering how valuable my assignments are, esp. when it’s the last grade of the quarter! @JoyKirr

  • Adam Beale

    Currently sat in an exam now with my Pre-intermediate group of teenage girls. They look bored to death. On top of that they have been examed to death by their own school. I’ve never known a school system like it, they seem to have exams week in week out. I feel sorry for them really. The result won’t reflect anything, they probably won’t take much notice of it and it will all be forgotten in a week or so.
    Sorry to seem so negative. Have never been a fan of exams and testing in general and never will be. I understand the reasoning behind exams, it doesnt mean have to like them.
    There must be another way!

  • Mrlobdell

    I strive for “parallel material” tests, especially for final exams. Who cares about memorization? It’s an overrated skill. But application is truly important!

  • http://twitter.com/louisealix68 Louise Alix Taylor

    hmm exams – it’s one of those “but it depends” type of stories. As a fan of differentiation I am also a fan of differentiated output whereby everybody must satisfy a minimum standard and the rest is in accordance with ability or intelligence or learning style or whatever you choose. Incidentally, I also think “constructive alignment” isn’t a bad idea i.e. start at the test and work your back through the curriculum so that you know that you will teach them/they will learn all that they need for the test. That doesn’t say much about the quality of the test itself but nonetheless it implies you start by planning where you want them to be after ‘x’ amount of time. Sorry, it’s that time of year again and my poor exhausted (and just a little fed up) brain is not up to much deep thought outside of school/assessment hours! ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/louisealix68 Louise Alix Taylor

    oh darn – this thingy just deleted my comment. But basically I said something like: “it depends”. And how about googling “constructive alignment” which involves starting at the test and working your way backwards through the curriculum to where you want to start. It doesn’t say anything about how good the test is but it does mean that you know where you want to go before you even start.
    Personally I’m a fan of differentiation so like the type of tests where everyone must satisfy a basic standard (pre-set) and then there is space for them to demonstrate their other knowledge/ability via multiple intelligences, learning styles etc etc whatever you wish to use.
    Apart from that I’m suffering from ‘end of year brainlessness’ and outside of class/assessments am unable to say anything of any particular relevance.

  • http://www.getintoenglish.com/ David

    This is a complicated question. But to keep it relatively brief, I remember when doing my diploma reading about how tests in a language class can in fact help solidify some language you’ve looked at, and from experience as a learner (eg of French) I’ll agree with this.

    I’ve also seen it as a teacher of Cambridge exam classes. Those who paid for and enrolled in the exams (BEC, FCE, CAE) made more progress, generally-speaking, than those who just came to class.

    The difference wasn’t just in terms of fluency, but also their letters, reports, and essays got better marks. They used a wider variety of structures, their work was very well presented, and some of them got to skip the next term as a result.

    However, when it comes to what I studied at university and school, I think there was an over-emphasis on remembering facts. I hope today it’s more towards interpreting and discussing the ‘facts’ and on developing the skills needed not just at work, but in life.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Recently, I’ve been wishing there were more “collaborative projects” like the ones you’ve mentioned as a way of putting into practice what is learned over the semester.   Of course, an exam done well can be beneficial too, but how often are they done well? ;-)

    Cheers 4 the dialogue, Joy!

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    I can understand the negative emotions.    As a student, I remember thinking some tests, and really some subjects (or some teachers) really weren’t worth my time.  Having bad experiences like that can mark us, but then again, it doesn’t mean that the tool (which is a test) is wrong, just that it’s being misused, or the folks behind it have “tried to take shortcuts” in order to achieve a standard, or to show that something was “learned”.

    Tough one.  Cheers, Adam.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    I hear ya, Jason!  

  • Sjhume

    Evaluation is ongoing, flexible and immediate.  Waiting for formal assessments just doesn’t work.  Learning is a messy endeavor that requires much more nuance than one assessment to be valid.  At least the testmaker industry is employing workers, but honestly, I do not use formal, high stakes tests to drive my instruction.  There, I’ve said it out loud.  If you took a poll of teachers, it would show this to be true for many in our profession.  Once education really is reformed to more inquiry-based, project-oriented meaningfully managed, assessments and grades won’t be necessary.  Extrinsic rewards  push compliance…intrinsic rewards sustain learning and knowledge.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Hey Louise,

    Ya see… you’d have more space for deep thought and discussion if there weren’t those darn tests! ;-)   (Just joking).  The flexibility you address with “minimum standards” and then mirroring student ability, learning style and intelligence sounds good, but isn’t it a bit hard to implement, especially as class size grows?  Constructive alignment.  First time I’ve heard of that approach.  Have you done much experimenting with it?  Sounds interesting.I can hear summer vacation right around the corner ;-)  Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    The test can be seen as a milestone, and there’s of course a very large difference between walking for miles without knowing where you’re going or where you’ve been, and running a marathon for which you’ve trained for months— having that milestone, goal or level you’re trying to obtain.  

    Goals can be very motivating, but any goal that is banal is not (as a fact-based, memorizing, boring review test may be).   Developing ways of building language that can continue on in new applications is the trick and of course this is achieved by exploring such ways in class.

    You were smart to say to keep it “brief”… the discussion is never-ending ;-)

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    I really enjoy the direction of your last statement, and I’ll agree that learning is indeed messy, so there is of course an overlap between what is intrinsic and extrinsc motivation. In the end we bump into the same pull of opposites: standardization vs personalization, flexibility vs rigidity, application vs theory.

    I’ll agree that movement towards personalization, flexibility and application are important in ongoing assessment, however these things are indeed hard to achieve from an adminstrative level, especially nationally or internationally.

    Cheers for the dialogue! -Brad