ASSESSMENT is perhaps the most vital of all the processes in academic and vocational education.
People who understand assessment will always stress on providing a quality assessment system with emphasis on the different aspects of subject matter, appropriate feedback given, ensure learning is sufficient to the right students, and honouring a qualification that is well received.
When the right procedures and proper systematic tasks are in place, students can be assured of the quality of their training and studies, and employers can have confidence in qualified students.
Without them, however, any of these can be placed in jeopardy.
Most assessment practices are said to be valid. There is much information available on assessments as there are numerous general books, manuals and materials which apply ideas to situations in academic and vocational education.
There is also an increasing amount of research and development being carried out in assessment and this has introduced new challenges and given rise to the traditional approaches to assessment that fail to address.
The importance of assessment issues in academic and vocational education is often not appreciated.
There is of course probably more bad practice and ignorance of significant issues in the area of assessment than in any other aspect of education.
The effects of bad practice are far more potent here than for any aspect of teaching.
Students can escape from the impact of poor teaching; they cannot (if they want to succeed in a course) escape the results of poor assessment.
Assessment acts as an instrument to control learners that has more effect on learners than most teachers or administrators are prepared to acknowledge.
Eckstein and Noah (1993) helped summarise the level of concern and debate about assessment by mentioning that:
“If examinations provoke debate and conflict, it is because they are not merely technical devices to evaluate students.
The policies and practices they embody carry ideological and political freight. Educational, ideological and political issues become intertwined, especially over questions of control, who shall control the examinations, and what shall the examinations control?
“Neither of these questions finds permanent solutions in any country. Instead, current examination policies and arrangements are best regarded as the outcome of a series of compromises among competing values, interests, and points of view, or . . . as a set of trade-offs between competing values.”
Assessment is thus important in its own right and it cannot be separated from the social context, and it also aids or inhibits the attempts of educators to improve teaching and learning.
Assessment as in the past, whether it is classroom, school-based or centralised examinations, have always been for comparing individuals with each other or to discriminate ‘the know’ and the ‘don’t know’.
In education, assessment needs to be thought of not as a comparison between individuals, but as “the process of collecting evidence and making judgments on the extent and nature of progress towards the performance requirements set out in a standard, or a learning outcome” (Hagar, Athanasou and Gonczi 1994).
Though many would deny the fact they are actually ‘differentiating learners’ it may be due to that:
* Most assessments are said to emphasise on memory and lower-level skills;
* Most assessments encourage students to focus on those topics which are assessed at the expense of those which are not;
* Students will put more effort and concentrate on graded tasks over those which are ungraded;
* Students will use undesirable approaches to learning influenced by the nature of assessment tasks; and
* Students will only remember key concepts in the subjects they have passed, despite performing well in examinations.
Successful students will ask tips from teachers to enable them to identify what is important for formal assessment purposes, and consequently ignore unassessed material.
The existing assessment approaches can have quite the opposite effects to those desired.
The issue of the links between competence, learning and assessment have now come to prominence, and it is possible to look afresh at ways in which assessment can fulfil two necessary requirements: that it measures competence, and that it has a beneficial effect on the learning process.