This blog post was first published as a guest post on The Association of School and College Leaders’ (ASCL) website. It is the last post in a series exploring the four pillars of assessment – purpose, validity, reliability and value.
Every minute that a teacher, student, leader, parent or governor spends engaging with assessment (be that in the form of planning, administering, doing, reviewing, marking, feeding back, analysing…) is a minute that wasn’t spent doing something else. As such, assessment carries with it a high opportunity cost; the value derived from the former should be at least commensurate with the latter (if it’s not, we should probably do something else).
Time-costing assessment: calculate the time spent on a single assessment process (creating, administering, pupils doing, marking and feedback to pupils, data entry). How much time was taken? How much value did the assessment add to the learning process?
However, it’s more than simply a question of opportunities not taken; the value of an assessment is inextricable from the efficient and effective fulfilment of its stated purpose. In our first blog post we highlighted the need for the purpose of assessment information to be made clear; increasing the value of assessment information by ensuring that, as Ronseal would say, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”.
The Ronseal test: does your assessment policy reflect assessment practice in your school or college? Is what is written what is enacted?
An assessment that can’t surprise you isn’t an assessment, so value also lies in the power to raise an eyebrow.
Building a bridge between teaching and learning is part of the role played by assessment; we can’t physically peer into a brain to find out how much geographical knowledge is in there, so we need proxies. We need bridges. Yet, if the bridges we use are not built robustly, and in a way that allows new and unusual views to be encountered as we cross, they fail to function as they should and their value to teachers and learners diminishes drastically.
Ultimately, this is an engineering problem: constructing assessment ‘bridges’ which provide myriad opportunities for surprising views is a challenge, but one that is not insurmountable for well-trained professionals.
Do you and your teaching staff know enough about assessment to describe accurately the quality of assessments used in your school or college?
According to S E Hobfall, in his 1989 article Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualising stress, expending personal resources such as effort, enthusiasm, patience, thought in a professional context, such as school, without subsequent replenishment is a leading cause of stress and burnout. Expending resources on all aspects of the assessment process also incurs costs to all involved. Acknowledgement of this fact, therefore, increases the importance of creating value to learning at every step, and this means creating purposeful assessments which efficiently allow valid inferences to be drawn so that teachers and learners are able more productively and accurately to know what to do next.
Assessments can have positive and negative effects, something known as the washback effect. The intended effects of assessment, such as pupils studying more, or high-quality feedback for learning, are known as positive washback. The unintended negative effects from assessment – such as unmanageable workload, teaching to the test, decreased time for other activities – are the negative washback effects.
In many ways, effective assessment is learning how to maximise positive washback and minimise negative washback. The main way in which we approach this is to create strong and explicit links between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
Ultimately, pupils should be able to “experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information” (On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand by J S Bruner 1979); it is information derived from well-designed, purposeful, planned assessments which bridges the gap between teaching and learning.
Better information can inform better decisions, and better decisions can lead to better learning. And if that’s not the most valuable outcome, what is?
“Understanding Value” is one unit of learning from the Assessment Lead Programme, offered by Assessment Academy. The programme is designed to offer a grounding to school teachers (primary and secondary) in assessment theory, design and analysis, along with practical tools, resources and support to help improve the quality and efficiency of assessment in your school.