The purpose of assessing is to demonstrate the breadth and depth of student learning taking place, whilst evaluating performance and providing structured feedback as educators. Assessing has a variety of purposes in generating grades, steering students towards potential careers or into further education and determining effectiveness of courses and tutors (Petty, 2014).
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This paper aims to evaluate current theories of assessment, examine and compare internal and external assessment feedback processes and critically review evaluation and measurement techniques in improving learning programmes. Furthermore the content researched will be utilised comparatively in demonstrating the author’s current use and understanding of assessment, evaluation and feedback methods. The authors classes, subject matters and levels are as follows:-
Level 2 City & Guilds Plumbing/Heating, full time
Level 3 BTEC Diploma Built Environment, full time
Level 6 BSc Construction Management, part time
Assessment, Evaluation and Feedback
Before considering assessment or indeed teaching, a good understanding of the Assessment Cycle is central for the Teacher, Assessor and Student (fig.1). It is important at first to determine what you require the students to learn, understand learning outcomes and how they can be demonstrated, how to assess and grade and finally how to feedback and make improvements to the process. A good holistic knowledge on how the assessment cycle impacts and influences all those involved is important in delivering desired outcomes (Cohen, 2017).
Fig.1. Assessment Cycle (Cohen, 2017).
Why do we assess? This could be due to a multiple of reasons, such as diagnostic in determining learning needs or difficulties, feedback to understand progress, areas of development and student motivation or to acknowledge standards and achievement. Assessment is largely divided into two forms, formative and summative. Formative assessment usually takes place over the duration of a study programme informing both the student and tutor of progress, whilst summative assessment tends to be at the end of a course or study phase in producing final results and possibly certification. Formative and summative assessment techniques may well include questions and answers, projects, assignments, essays and practical tests; however end examinations are strictly perceived as being summative in nature. Formative techniques are a useful tool in ensuring learning has taken place, help develop future teaching methods and also help students gauge their progress, whereas summative techniques are useful in helping employers determining the right candidate, assist in future curriculum development, award and certificate and possibly directing students to a higher form of study (Reece, 2005).
Assessments could also be termed as being internal or external assessments. Internal assessments tend to be assessments designed, selected and used by the Teacher and then embedded into the curriculum. Weekly tests, observations, spelling tests, quizzes and projects could all be termed internal assessment designed and created for the needs of a class. Internal assessments are also a useful tool to determine decision making processes and compiling student reports. External assessments are usually selected and controlled by another person or group out of the Teacher’s control. These forms of assessments are seen to have possibly more importance, authenticity and higher stakes attached. External assessments are also seen to not just acknowledge educational achievement, but also quality of instruction (Ciera, 2017).
Assessment can simply be determined as the evidence of student achievement gathered and consequently judged (Gray, 2005), or indeed that assessment is a combination of evidence and of a standard or scale in quantifying achievement (Ecclestone, 1996). To determine this outcome a fit for purpose or assessment principle is required as a guide or method to ensure the correct procedures are put in place. CADET (Consistent, Accessible, Detailed, Earned and Transparent) is one such principle that can be followed in achieving the desired outcome (Wilson, 2014).
Consistency– ensure methods and timeliness are at a level standard with outcomes which are constant.
Accessibility– all learners are able to access assessment criteria and follow all requirements of equality and inclusion.
Detailed– assessments cover all curriculum demands fairly and evenly, with no form of ambiguity.
Earned– the integrity of the assessment is to be respected whilst all learners are encouraged to achieve their qualification with rigour.
Transparency– everyone in the assessment process is clear about its purpose and meaning.
VACSR (Valid, Authentic, Current, Sufficient and Reliable) also attempts to achieve the same goal with a slightly different variation on a similar theme (Assessment Practice, 2017).
Valid– Covers all relevant content and sets out to confirm learners understanding.
Authentic– verifies it is the learners own work and checks cognitive understanding is sufficient.
Current– is the content relevant or up to date.
Sufficient– assessment must be fit for learner, learning and level.
Reliable– the assessment is replicable and consistent.
A Teacher’s roles and responsibilities vary from an Assessor’s, in that a Teacher demonstrates skills, underpins knowledge, raises the students confidence and monitors progress in preparation for assessment. An Assessor’s roles and responsibilities differ somewhat, in utilising structures such as CADET and VACSR, judging knowledge and producing feedback. However it is likely that an individual may have to perform both roles in being a Teacher and Assessor, but must be clear of the distinction between the two. Before commencing on assessment there must be a clear strategy on what approach would be suitable to produce the desired outcomes. If indeed you want to demonstrate psychomotor skills, a practical form of assessment may be the correct methodology, for cognitive skills, possibly an assessment to recall knowledge, and to demonstrate affective skills a strategy highlighting the ability to evaluate or appreciate an opinion (Wilson, 2014).
A useful tool to implement assessment strategy and understanding on how to apply techniques can be targeted using Blooms Taxonomy (fig.2). This structure will help an Assessor determine on how to pitch an assessment at the right level to produce the required outcome. When progressing through the taxonomic pyramid, simple outcomes such as remembering and understanding may cater for less academic and simpler pursuits, whilst more challenging and academic assessments may well require the ability to analyse and evaluate (Bloom, 1956).
Fig. 2. Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956).
Assessment itself can be implemented in a variety of forms to both suit the learner and meet required outcomes. An assessment could be direct, where the evidence is the learners own work, this could include observation, simulation, project/assignment, case study, written questions, group work, essays or verbal questions (open/closed/nominated/directed). Indirect assessment, where the evidence is the view or opinion of others could include peer or self assessment or recognition of prior learning (Wilson, 2014).
Feedback and marking is an extremely important and integral part of the assessment process, it is imperative that the correct procedures are followed.
- Feedback to students should be provided promptly as possible and ideally verbally.
- Feedback requires information on success in relation to learning objectives, next steps to take and possible improvements.
- Do not draw comparisons with peers, however comparisons with previous work is to be encouraged.
- Students must understand the Teachers marking and comments.
- Codes and comments that relate to learning outcomes should be used, try not use symbols or rewards which could be interpreted as grades.
- Allow time for students to read and respond to results.
- If necessary inform parents of the feedback and marking policy (Pollard et.al, 2009).
Failure to follow this procedure may result in disagreement or conflicts of interest between the Student, Teacher and Assessor. To respond to any form of dissatisfaction from the student may require a 2nd opinion from a more independent source; this could be in the form of a Programme Lead or Program Manager.
It is also important to evaluate and evidence assessment techniques, evidence must be generated, collected, judged and verified. In finally gaining a qualification a student must pass through this list of procedures. Evidence is usually generated by the student in the form of assessment in line with the requirements of the awarding body, this evidence is then collected and judged by the Assessor and finally verified by possibly both internal and external verifiers (Reece, 2005). An Internal Quality Assurer or Verifier has the duty to ensure that assessments are valid, authentic, current, sufficient and reliable (VACSR), furthermore to support teachers and assessors, to maintain records, lead standardisation requirements, liaise with awarding organisations and plan external quality assurance visits. An External Quality Assurer or Verifier is generally appointed by the awarding body to confirm that indeed that both the assessment and internal quality assurance procedures comply with the awarding organisation assessment guidance (Wilson, 2014).
Sadler (1998) suggested that learners require three important pieces of information if they are to learn to maximum effect, clear goals, a medal and a mission. If learners do not have clear goals they are unlikely to do it, learners also need to know on how well they have done and receive approval for their efforts and targets set for current and existing work. Assessment in all its forms has a significant role to play in encouraging the learning process. Dylan Wiliam (2011) made a simple and direct statement in a published paper titled ‘What is Assessment Learning’ in 2011 that, assessment has a significant and considerable impact in enhancing learning.
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As discussed previously there are two basic forms of assessment methods in both formative and summative approaches. Harlen (2007) summarised in a recent journal that there must remain a clear distinction between summative and formative techniques. In a paper a year previous Harlen, et.al, (2006) noted that formative and summative assessment purposes have become too confused in practice and as a consequence assessment fails to have a truly formative aspect in learning.
Wiliam et al, (2010) stressed the importance and correct use of formative assessment techniques due to its significant impact in higher quality learning. Early research by Wiliam et.al, (1998) made the suggestion that effective formative strategies could potentially add an equivalent of up to two grades on a student’s overall grade. Much of Wiliam et.al, approach to education and assessment attempts to distance itself from what they term as more ‘conventional methods’ in teaching, testing, grading and moving on. A ‘best practice’ approach championed by Wiliam et.al, has a strong emphasis on diagnostic and formative methodology in identifying faults, fixing and following up. However not all practitioners are in complete agreement with an over emphasis on a formative approach. Trotter (2006) discovered surprisingly that using continual summative assessment methods with her undergraduate students actually enhanced the learning experience rather than limiting it.
Mastery methodology and testing identifies not only on what needs to be learned, but also allowing students as much practice time as necessary before assessment. This approach also offers the facility for those students who do not pass where they need to focus efforts, specifically in areas of weaknesses or gaps in knowledge. Again using the ‘find faults, fix and follow up’ concept these principles are common and effective in formative assessment techniques (Petty, 2014). Bloom (1992) highlighted that the essence of mastery learning strategies supplements frequent feedback and assists individual students on corrective help where ever needed.
Scotland has put a greater deal of emphasis on assessment for learning. The main drive for such an approach is that learners learn best when understanding clearly what they are to learn, given feedback on quality of work, advice on improvements and being fully involved in what needs to be done to progress (AFL, 2007). This would suggest a strong tendency also towards a more likely environment encouraging formative types of assessment. Marshal et.al, (2007) also a strong proponent of assessment for learning indicated that, teachers interviewed found that they felt a greater responsibility for success and failure in regards to promoting student’s autonomy. Furthermore it created a sense of their own agency and a positive approach in overcoming learning barriers. Torrence (2007) develops the connection with formative feedback and assessment a stage further. Torrence proposes that the practice of assessment has moved beyond both assessment of learning and assessment for learning, but now could be termed as ‘assessment as learning’. This form of approach could be significant as to potentially becoming dominant in the learning experience and replace conventional learning practices completely.
Theory into Practice.
This final section is to examine my own teaching practice in relation to discussed theories and comments highlighted within the literature review.
Level 2 City & Guilds Plumbing/Heating, Various Modules, full time (approx 60 students in 3 classes)
Currently my plumbing students are assessed in two distinct disciplines, one being practical and the other theory. In practical, students have a workbook with a number of pre-set externally set practical tasks, in which all must be completed by the end of the academic year. As a Tutor it is my task to evaluate each piece of work and decide if it is of a quality to pass, if this is not the case further direction is offered in assisting the student to achieve this goal. Each task has a number of aims that need to be checked off once reached and then finally the inclusion of feedback from the Tutor. This form of assessment is strictly formative in nature and is a series of observed tasks in preparation for final externally set summative assessments. The formative assessment is an ongoing process and as and when I feel the student is ready they will be prepared for four separate summative practical assessments. Final summative assessments tend to be over an extended period of time (one to four days) depending on the complexity and demands of the task. Students are observed throughout the process but are not able to seek help or guidance from the assessor, however minimal guidance is allowed within the parameters of the assessment. The assessment process for theory classes is a series of nine externally set online multiple choice examinations set at the end of each topic and module, requiring a 60% pass rate. Students, as in practical have workbooks including all power point slides, tasks and question papers.
The assessment procedure follows CADET and VACSR principles to a rather rigid format with little or no flexibility for the Tutor to in anyway modify or influence the assessment process. I feel this not due to the ability of the Tutor, but to the perceived lower academic ability of the student, a great deal of both the summative and formative assessment process is already externally determined with a clear and simple path on how a student is to complete their qualification. However, I will involve internal assessing in the form of both written and online mock examinations in preparation for summative theory examinations. Unfortunately some of the formative assessment techniques I tend to use with higher level students are not used at this level due to the academic ability of the student, student numbers, a largely predetermined formative/summative assessment procedure and the lack of time to do so.
Although there is the facility for feedback within practical workbooks, the nature of activities and student numbers in theory classes makes it extremely difficult to create an activity and have the time to mark and generate quality feedback. Due to the structure and demands on theory classes this is very difficult to achieve. However, I have asked students to write short essays and perform short research tasks in the past, but feel the overall effort on both Student and Tutor does not justify or add significantly in academic progression. The main aim, I feel with students at this level, is to encourage both psychomotor and cognitive skills rather than spending a significant amount of time in developing affective evaluating abilities or indeed having to target the lower attributes in Bloom’s taxonomy in helping students achieve a final qualification. At this level, assessment of learning is a more effective as opposed to assessment for learning. However formative assessment has a role to play in recalling knowledge at this level, but has limited use in regards to the need for evaluative skills. The emphasis I feel at this level is in encouraging as many as possible over the finish line using a simple and largely inflexible delivery and assessment methods or indeed what could be suggested as quantity over quality.
Level 3 BTEC Diploma Built Environment, Sustainable Construction and Health & Safety full time (25 students, 1 class)
BTEC students for both of my modules are strictly assessed by summative assignments designed by the Tutor within the guidelines and outcomes set externally by the qualification body. Formative assessment criteria is left to the discretion of the Tutor and determined by the knowledge and ability of both Lecturer and Student. This to a greater degree encourages both flexibility and responsibility for the Tutor in regards to CADET or VACSR principles in determining how to both implement and measure assessment procedures. Although there is a textbook available, I feel it may guide the Tutor or Student somewhat, but has moderate influence on both formative and summative assessments.
Due to summative assessments being written assignments, it is imperative that quality structured feedback is offered. Students have the opportunity to re-submit work if they do not reach all pass/merit/distinction criteria, this follows very closely the ‘find faults, fix, follow up’ approach. However I have found this extremely time consuming and have limited this only to students that submit on time. Unfortunately due to the vast work load I am finding that I have to develop a skill of scanning students work rather than reading every single word. This I feel is not a necessarily a completely fair or professional approach to marking or grading work, but becoming more of a necessity due to an ever increasing work load and additional limitations in regards to time.
Due to there being no final assessment or exam for both modules, the emphasis is largely on affective skills, with some necessity for cognitive ability and minimal requirement for psychomotor activities. I have developed a number of more formative led activities and assessments designed for both the academic ability of student and to help incorporate affective and cognitive skills. The use of presentations, group work, use of different IT software programmes and handouts are used to encourage further stretch and challenge. The emphasis is aimed more towards the higher abilities found in Bloom’s taxonomy and the promotion of assessment for learning as well as assessment as learning. Although this form of delivery and assessment method is more time consuming outside the classroom environment, there appears to be more autonomy and emphasis centred on both Student and Lecturer.
Level 6 BSc Construction Management, Sustainable Construction, part time (5 Students)
Being Module Leader for the above degree module has given me almost complete autonomy for both delivery and assessment criteria with only externally set outcomes to meet. Students again are graded on assignment submissions only with no form of final examination for this particular module. CADET or VACSR responsibilities are almost entirely at my discretion, however De Montfort University, Leicester are likely to externally verify delivery and assessment quality criteria. Summative assessments are to be submitted and graded through ‘Turn it in’ software and consequently marked with structured feedback. This is a process I will be implementing over the next two months, so at this point cannot comment in a great detail.
Formative activities and assessments as with BTEC students develop skills more associated with higher education, although BSc students are instructed to submit their research to an electronic source (Moodle) in preparation for a follow up seminar or discussion to demonstrate further there affective or evaluative skills. Due to the age, maturity and nature of employment of BSc students, involvement and contribution in classroom activities and formative assessment process has been of a high quality. Much of Bloom’s lower attributes have minimal impact on the learning and assessment process at this level, and students studying and being assessed at this level are best described as falling in the ‘assessment as learning’ criteria.
It appears clear that assessment procedures vary significantly depending on the academic level taught. With my FE students there appears to be more importance and relevance on externally set summative exams with simple answer/question scenarios to identify cognitive ability, whereas with HE students a more equal and balanced emphasis on both summative and formative assessment with the ability to analyse and evaluate. Although I would like to include a greater variety of formal assessment to FE students, I feel lack of focus and motivation could be a greater barrier rather than academic ability. Unfortunately many students at this academic level neither have the drive or interest to take full advantage of such formative assessment techniques. However externally set formative techniques appear to work more successfully in practical applications in determining psychomotor skills.
Both formative and summative techniques in HE give a great deal more autonomy for both Student and Tutor with only externally set outcomes, but as a consequence is far more time consuming. If further education is to encourage a greater range of higher education programmes, a great deal more time is required for those delivering such subjects to ensure adequate time is dedicated for both more academic summative and formal assessing. I think what I have learned through this process is that externally set assessments with minimal Tutor interference suits lower or further education, whilst higher education performs better with less external assessment involvement short of direction in the form of outcomes.
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- Ciera (2017). Effective Practices for Assessing Young Readers. Internal and External Assessment. www.ciera.org/library/reports/inquiry-3/3-013/3-013.html. Accessed 18/04/17.
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- Wiliam, D and Black, P. (1998). Assessment and Classroom Learning. Assessment in Education, Ch.5(1), pp. 7-74.
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