THE Oakland Community College in the United States has defined assessment as "an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning.
"It involves making the expectations clear to students and setting appropriate outcomes for learning. It helps to determine how well student performance matches those outcomes (www.oaklandcc.edu/assessment/Definition.htm)."
This definition is based on five fundamental questions identified by the Higher Learning Commission in the US for institutions to use when discussing appraisal.
Understanding the following terminology will help teachers to improve the planning and evaluation of their students:
l Formative assessment
This takes place during routine teaching/learning sessions. It can be a planned activity or a surprise test. Typically, it does not contribute to the promotional criteria or overall results of the student. It helps to identify their areas of strength and weakness. This assessment is used to give feedback to students so that appropriate actions can be taken before the summative assessment.
l Summative assessment
This is carried out at the conclusion of a course. It judges the level of knowledge and mastery of skills that form the basis of students' promotion to the next level of training. Failure to achieve a satisfactory outcome in this assessment will result in a delay in the advancement of the student.
l Assessment tools
These are the instruments, both quantitative and qualitative, that are used to gauge the level of learning. These include traditional written examinations as well as alternative methods of evaluation such as teamwork, communication skills, group performances, demonstrations and oral examinations.
l Criterion-referenced assessment
This is where an individual's performance is compared to a specific learning outcome or performance benchmark. This evaluation is meant to measure how well a student has learned a specific body of knowledge and/or skills. In this type of assessment, it is possible that none, or all, of the examinees will achieve a particular goal or performance standard (www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/assment/as8lk3.htm).
The multiple choice exams most people take to get a driver's licence and on-the-road driving tests are both examples of criterion-referenced tests. It is possible for everyone to earn a passing score if they know about driving rules and if they drive reasonably well (www.fairtest.org/criterion-and-standards-referenced-tests).
l Norm-referenced assessment
An individual's performance is compared with the performance of other students in this case. This evaluation indicates an individual's relative standing in a group of students -- at a local or national level. The cut-off point for successful candidates is not a specific score but the number or percentage of "defined" top scorers, for example, to fill a certain number of posts. An institution may decide to declare only the top 25 per cent students as successful. Therefore, the minimum passing score may vary from year to year.
l Continuous assessment
This assessment is an ongoing process, as opposed to the end of term, semester or annual examinations. It is based on day-to- day performance of the students and usually gathers information about the areas which are difficult to evaluate during formal examinations such as teamwork, attitude, enthusiasm, participation in teaching/learning and extra-curricular activities. If conducted properly, it gives a better evaluation of students than a one-time three-hour examination at the end of the course.
l 360o assessment
This is a comprehensive form of evaluation where all the aspects of personal and professional attributes are judged. Structured and unstructured formats are used to gather relevant information from seniors, peers, subordinates, subjects, co-workers, including both academic and administrative staff members. For example, a 360o assessment of a medical student may involve opinions of medical and paramedical staff (including hospital ward sister, nurses, ward boys), senior students, peers and patients.
l Peer review
In this form of assessment, students assess each other. At the end of a small group session, students may appraise their peers in terms of participation, communication, presentation skills and innovative ideas. They may also make suggestions for improvement.
It is a process in which a student, for the purpose of future improvement, systematically reviews his performance or learning. Usually at the end of small group discussions, students are asked to evaluate themselves in terms of their own contribution to the session. They are required to describe how satisfied they were about their participation and note the areas they think they would need to improve further.
Assessment is carried out to measure the degree of competence of the students. Competence is defined as the application of knowledge, skills and attitudes. On a simplified scale, competence can be assessed at three levels: level one -- knowing (for example, the ability to recall a mathematical formula); level two -- understanding (for example, the ability to explain how the formula was derived); and level three -- application (for example, the ability to apply the formula to solve novel problems).