Friday, August 31, 2012

Authentic Assessment

Last few years have seen new methods of assessment and evaluation being introduced by Central Board of Secondary Education as per the objective of National Curriculum Framework 2005. This includes the implementation of CCE and now open book system in class X examination (summative II). Over the last two to three years the focus has shifted from teaching learning process to examination and evaluation process. When we try to analyze the reason behind the apparent sudden anxiety of the authorities towards the examination pattern which has been followed by the country in the last fifty -sixty years, we realize that is not something which has come all of a sudden but there have been talks and discussions in seminar and conferences that the country needs better ways of assessment and evaluation of the learning of the children.  The educationists were concerned about the changes to be brought in our education system so that schooling particularly does not remain a stressful exercise for the students. Assessment is very important for better learning and evaluation and is equally important to understand the level of the learning achieved by the students. What I feel is that assessment is very important in the life of every individual so this should be administered in a way that there is no ambiguity which might not give the correct picture about the competence.  What I mean here that the assessment should be valid and reliable. If this is not a valid and reliable instrument, then it is an unnecessary burden on children and teachers both. When I talk of validity, I mean that a test should measure what it is supposed to measure. Reliability means the extent to which the test is free of any measurement error.  Measurement in any field of study should possess an acceptable degree of validity and reliability. For example, if we have to measure the length of an object then you take the help of a meter scale. This meter scale gives valid and reliable result because whoever measures the length and whatever number of times the measurement is taken the result would be almost the same.  Though it is difficult to develop a test which is perfectly valid and reliable but an invalid test is as useless as having no test. To increase the validity and reliability, Central Board of Secondary Education kept on trying the improvement in the question papers of classes X and XII for the last many years. And now the situation has reached were most of the questions are one word answer type or two to three lines answers. What I think that, in this process, we missed on a very important aspect of education.  We focused more on the information received and retained by the child rather the understanding and application of the knowledge. Now the teachers’ manual of CBSE for classes VI – X talks about other ways of assessment also to improve assessment and making it more authentic. The idea behind is that the poor test might assess memory only while the better test would measure memory, understanding and application. The test better than this would assess more important  skills as well which are; to solve open ended problems, working in groups, new ideas, assessing self, using data available and making assumptions. There can be many more skills which can be assessed and developed with the help of better framed and executed assessment.
Psychologist Scott Paris and colleagues explained an authentic assessment in the form of portfolio. They defined the portfolio as selection of learners’ work reflecting about the classroom interaction, classroom work and other evidences of their performance in the class. This will make the children self assessors.  Another innovation in assessment is collaborative testing. Psychologist Phillip Zimbardo turned his attention towards the anxiety and test among the students and he thought of how to reduce it. He tried a new method in his psychology courses where in the students were offered the option of choosing a partner of their choice from among their classmates to write the test together. They were also given the option of taking the test alone. Around forty percent students opted for the partner and the rest were alone. When he tried to understand the reason for opting for partner and otherwise he found that the ones who opted for working alone feared that the partner do less work. The result showed that those who wrote test in pairs scored higher than those who were alone, also they enjoyed the course more, could share the knowledge more and were anxious about the test which were administered later on. Zimbardo rightly says that collaborative stress reduces the fear and that is more valuable in real world situation when we have to work in groups. The third example of an authentic test can be rubrics. This has been a new concept in our evaluation system courtesy introduction of CCE. I remember when we were asked to write an essay in the examination on any topic and if the maximum marks allotted were, say ten, then the examiners used to decide not to award more than particular marks whatever was the quality of the essay written.  This did not help the learner to understand the level of his/her competence based on the marks scored. Even the teachers were not able to explain what would have been the quality of essay so that the students would have been awarded full marks or close to that. Here in this situation rubrics can play a very important role. For a situation of an essay writing, we need to list out the criteria and these can be clarity, range of issues, depth of understanding the topic, the language and you can add more. Then different levels of performance on each criterion should be described in words clearly. For example in case of clarity the levels may be;

1.      Points not made clearly, overall confused matter
2.      A few points made clearly rest mostly are confused.
3.      Many clear points but in a few there is confusion.
4.      Almost all points made clearly, overall clear essay.
A similar thing can be done for the rest of the criteria also. This way the teacher as well as the children would be able to understand their areas of strength and weaknesses and follow up action can be taken so that the future learning is better. Precisely, this is the purpose of assessment that we improve our level of learning and competence. 
In the end, I would like to emphasis upon the fact that assessment and teaching should be an enjoyable exercise for teachers and students both so that all are better prepared to face real life situation. Teaching learning assessment should be interwoven in such a manner that nobody feels that a lot of time is wasted for preparation, administration and recovery from tests. The motivation of teachers and students should not shift from process of learning to performance only which may be the root cause of stress and anxiety among the students.  

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