Which of these is the purpose of assessments?
A. To score or grade children
B. To find out how much children know or understand the topic
C. To find out how well a teacher has taught a topic
D. None of the above
In order to appreciate this question, let us take a situation. Most of us have fallen ill and visited a doctor at least once in our lives. Suppose one day, you are not feeling well and you visit a doctor. He asks you some questions, measures your heartbeat, temperature and runs a blood test. By different means, the doctor assesses your condition. The doctor also gives you a prescription of medicines and a detailed diet plan.
Why did the doctor assess your situation? To find out what may be causing your illness? To suggest medicines and a treatment?
You didn’t go to the doctor so that you can read a detailed report of your sickness. You did not even go to the doctor because you wanted to take medicines. So, why did you visit the doctor?
You visited the doctor for only one reason. You wanted your condition to improve, to feel less sick and to feel better. The doctor did not examine you and run tests because he likes prescribing medicines. He wanted your health to improve. What if the doctor assessed you, gave you your blood test report and bid you goodbye? What if he suggested a treatment which did not improve your health? Surely, you will consider the assessment futile.
Unfortunately, the assessments in our schools work very similarly. Teachers take several assessments in a year, by asking questions, as a worksheet, a weekly test, a unit test, a presentation, a report, etc. 95% of these assessments result in a score or a grade for the children. A few times, after some of the assessments, teachers take remedial measures.
Giving children a score or a grade will not help them. Even taking remedial measures is not enough unless one thing happens: learning improves. Algebra, respiration, integers, chemical equations, electricity; we assess each topic but how often are we able to ensure that children have an improved understanding because of our assessments? What is the point of assessing in the first place?
If medical treatment were to run the same way as we run education, we would find most doctors asking a few questions to the patients, running a few tests and then moving on to the next patient. Some doctors would suggest a treatment, prescribe some medicines, but never really make sure that you are treated and that you feel better.
As teachers, we also really need to ask ourselves: how are our assessments really helping the students? Is it fair to the children if we only give them a score, a report and a feedback? Within our time constraints, can we not do more and make sure that learning improves? How is the purpose of assessments being filled otherwise?
A lot of educationists are currently spending a lot of time, resources and efforts in trying to make the perfect assessments, generate an accurate and detailed analysis. Somewhere, in all our efforts of designing a perfect assessment, trying to assess and collect data by different means, making very detailed reports, have we forgetting why we even assess? Have we lost focus on children whose learning can improve with the help of assessments? It is about time we re-assess and question our usage of assessments in our classrooms.