Thursday, 12 November 2015

Assessment of learning

marks, grades or something else?

Future citizens of countries are sent to schools and universities to acquire knowledge in different disciplines so they could function for themselves, their relatives and for the society as well. After a given period of learning, they undergo a process that indicates how much knowledge they’ve picked up.

Knowledge level indicators
Award of mark (0—100 out of 100) has been the traditional method that informs parents,  administrators of institutions, certificate-awarding agencies and of course learners themselves how much of a given syllabus learners have learnt. To eliminate the teacher bias, ‘objective’ testing in the form of ‘multiple choice’ and ‘true/false’ test items has been employed (though there is no guarantee that learners have chosen the right answers by applying their knowledge); the grading system (D, C, B and A) as an alternative indicator has come into existence.  A minimum percentage or a grade as a ‘pass’ and a maximum percentage or a grade are set that enable learners to move from one class to another and enter higher institutions, secure scholarships and land jobs. Internal assessment or summative evaluation is supposed to compensate for the arbitrary nature of assessment in a few hours of knowledge gained over a period of time. Still, it’s the numbers or grades that count. The higher the marks or the grades, the better the opportunities for entry into higher institutions of learning and for securing ‘posh’ jobs. In others words, all stakeholders—parents, administrators, learners, employers—base their decisions on the marks awarded as indicators of the depth level of knowledge  learners have reached.

But then, neither the award of marks or grades indicate the true level of knowledge of learners. Little blame can be laid at the door of the learners if they concentrate on getting better marks/grades than their peers and not worry about the actual learning they’ve gained. It’s the system that is at fault; it’s the system that has failed in its attempt to make learners the ‘learned’. It’s we as stakeholders who have employed a system that prevents learners from really learning.

Something else
What’s this ‘something else’ that can ensure actual acquisition of knowledge? Giving the responsibility of learning to learners themselves. How do we do this?

Marks or grades may continue to be awarded but they should be used only for award of scholarships, not for award of certificates or degrees nor for securing jobs. There shouldn’t be ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. Low marks or low grades have their own consequences: disappointment, frustration, undue mental stress that students experience when they go unrecognised and this may even lead to unwanted social behaviours.

Learners go through the learning process—listening to teachers and reading related literature including textbooks as they complete syllabuses for a given period of years, receive course completion certificates at different levels, compete for higher education courses and jobs, exhibit the knowledge level they’ve acquired, get selected and move further or get stagnant. The latter or the former, they’ll know it’s the kind of learning that has occurred that decides their future. They’ll realise there are no ‘props’ and they need to stand on their own feet.

Of course, governments will have to educate parents, students, teachers, employers what’s in store for them.

Two things happen as a result. Employing agencies and higher education institutions will have a huge task of evaluating hundreds of thousands of learners. They shouldn’t complain because now they can select really knowledgeable candidates. Once such system is in place, it’ll take some time for how the system works to sink in in the minds of parents and students. But then they’ll settle down to this inevitable environment and get down to business of learning.

And now the burden of learning will be on the right shoulders.

Sounds crazy? May be but there’s a method in this madness surely you’ll agree. I hope.

Note: you may also be interested in two Linkedin Pulse articles by
1.      Jena Lynch’s ‘Why I Refuse to Stop Using Traditional Grades’
2.      Gary Skyner’s ‘Stop Grading Students’.