Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Assessment - Positive & Negative Experiences

This year, my school is focusing on assessment as part of the strategic plan. Along with reading Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Chappuis, Chappuis, Stiggins and Arter, we will have regular training sessions as a faculty.

Our first activity is to reflect on one negative and one positive assessment experience and why made them so.

Negative Experience
A negative assessment experience would be when I was given feedback from an assignment, without having known the criteria in advance. The feedback points came as a surprise and I hadn't been clear about the requirements. It felt unfair and illogical as my other experiences had been so transparent. I was not able to self-assess before the final outcome was judged and therefore there was an essential learning step that was missed. This was pretty typical of all my secondary school experiences. At the time I didn't question it as I usually did OK, but I was never sure of the specific rationale (even more confusing when it was a percentage rather than a grade, as we took As as great, Bs as good, Cs as a basic pass etc - all worked out by our teenage brains of course). As a side note, this also greatly contributed to a culture whereby students were considered - and considered themselves - 'good' or 'not so good' at school.

Positive Experience
In all honesty, the most positive experience came from receiving the highest grade when I wasn't expecting it. I had been aware of the criteria, bur was so caught up in the task itself that I hadn't particularly fretted over hitting every key point. It was part of the process that we had constant formative feedback at every step of the process so the high chances of success were as facilitated as they could be. By getting us to focus on the component parts of the assessment throughout, we automatically had the clearest understanding of what we were trying to achieve. Had the criteria been given to us as one multi-page document, I'm not sure our focus each time would have been so tight so I felt I learned a lot from this experience about the content and how to 'chunk' parts of the task for success.

Colleagues' Reflections
  • Trying to 'win' the game of guessing the exam questions - great when you managed it, but what was the point?
  • Poor environments for testing including distractions and some not taking it seriously.
  • Walking into exams blind with no idea of what's coming.
  • Having a time crunch e.g. writing an essay in 40 minutes when 10 minutes more would have been great. My note: What's that about? I'm sure we all recognise it but it just seems like training for tests with no relation to anything that happens outside of school walls?!
[Accessed August 2015]
Considering our positive and negative experience in light of the '5 keys' above, I can relate almost all of them to each of the examples given. 

  • Key 1 - We either did or did not know what the point of the assessment was, whether to give us directions for future study or be summative. 
  • Key 2 - We either had clear or no ideas about why we were doing the assessment.
  • Key 3 - This one was less relevant because in the negative experiences, we knew nothing about the assessment purposes anyway, so being able to evaluate the design didn't even enter our heads. In the positive experiences, practical skills were assessed practically and content knowledge assessed appropriately.
  • Key 4 - In positive experiences we were clear about where our results came from and 'next steps'. In negative experiences, we simply received a grade or percentage with no further comment.
  • Key 5 - In positive experiences, we were engaged as students in the whole process and appreciated the assessment opportunity as a time to get useful feedback. In negative experiences, we were either completely stressed out or didn't care about the assessment.