I’m starting to think that I’ve lost the plot.
Why have I been worrying about what and how to assess, when I’ve said all along that the real question is ‘who is the assessment for’? I was worrying about this when I re-read an article by Alfie Kohn, “The trouble with Rubrics”. In this he says:
In fact, when the hows of assessment pre-occupy us, they tend to chase the whys back into the shadows. So let’s shine a light over there and ask: What’s our reason for trying to evaluate the quality of students’ efforts? It matters whether the objective is to (1) rank kids against one another, (2) provide an extrinsic inducement for them to try harder, or (3) offer feedback that will help them become more adept at, and excited about, what they’re doing. Devising more efficient rating techniques—and imparting a scientific luster to those ratings—may make it even easier to avoid asking this question. In any case, it’s certainly not going to shift our rationale away from (1) or (2) and toward (3). (p14)
So before trying to devise yet more simple – or complex – assessment schemes, I’m going to need to go back to the question ‘who is the assessment for’? Is it for the pupils (Kohn’s number 3, or possibly 2 as well), is it the teacher, to know how well the pupils are doing, or is it ‘the system’, which wants and needs assessment data? Until this question is answered, we can’t really say why we are assessing, or what the purpose of the data is.
Now, I also happen to think there’s a lot more than Kohn’s 3 reasons for why to assess, actually, but even so, the question of why? does need addressing. Yes, I know about data-tracking, and I know about showing progress and progression, and I know about evaluating learning, and so on, which means that oft-times assessment is doing what Boud (2000) referred to as “double duty”.
This week we’ve had the clear statement from Robin Hammerton of Ofsted that:
…using levels and sub levels to try to prove pupils’ ongoing progress in music doesn’t work, as Ofsted has pointed out many times. It is usually superficial, time wasting and neither reliable nor valid. It is most certainly not any kind of ‘Ofsted requirement’. To be absolutely clear, our inspectors do not expect to see it.
I’m bound to return to this statement in future blogs, but it points out that assessing progress using the NC levels doesn’t work. So, back to the opening question, why is assessment taking place?
Once we know that, then we can start to work on suitable systems. And, yes, I’ve been guilty of not taking my own advice.
Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable Assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22(2), 151-167.