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What does this all mean for assessment? (archived)

As we have seen, new dimensions of learning are highlighted by the inclusion of key competencies at the heart of the curriculum. These dimensions challenge some assumptions that are deeply embedded in traditional assessment practices:

  1. The knowledge, skill, or attitude being assessed is in a fixed state, that is, what the individual does in this task or moment is indicative of what they can always do. An example would be making a judgment about a child's potential without allowing for the possibility that it could be expanded by appropriate challenges.
  2. If the learning sampled in this one assessment is valid, that is, the assessment task assesses what it says it does, then the result is indicative of overall learning and ability in this area. An example would be seeing the mark from one 'robust' final examination as indicating overall learning and ability in a whole subject and across a considerable period of time.
  3. Competency resides in individuals separately from the contexts in which they demonstrate it.
  4. Variations in an individual's assessment results that occur on different but related occasions are caused by measurement errors or poorly designed tasks. This assumption underpins traditional thinking about the reliability of assessments.

Looking at assessment through a different lens

When key competencies are added to the assessment mix, rethinking the assumptions above might lead to ideas more like these:

  • Addressing assumptions 1 and 2: Performance is context specific, so competency is judged only after evidence has been accumulated from a range of performances in varying contexts. One-off judgments have little validity in themselves but may contribute to a growing assessment picture as the student works towards meeting identified learning goals.
  • Addressing assumption 3: The context of the task requires careful attention. Tasks need not only to provide opportunities for demonstrating competencies but also to invite and foster students' inclinations to show what they know and can do. That is, the task must be meaningful and engaging for the student.
  • Addressing assumption 4: Changes across similar performances may represent evidence of learning as the competencies in question are adapted for use in new tasks.
Review questions image.
  • What sorts of tasks would fit with this changing picture of assessment?
  • What sorts of assessment methods support the documentation of accumulating evidence?
  • What might make assessments valid in these changing assessment contexts?
  • Does reliability matter? Why or why not? When and when not?

Next – A new metaphor: Assessment tasks as performance

Published on: 17 Mar 2008