• What is the role of assessment in education?

    What is the role of assessment in education?
    • Defining Assessment
    • What exactly do we mean when we talk about assessment of student learning? At the course level, assessment provides important data on the breadth and depth of student learning. Assessment is more than grading. It’s about measuring the progress of student learning. Thus, assessment is defined as a
    • “process of gathering data to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of student learning”
    • (Harris and Hodges, 1995).
    • Assessment and Learning
    • Assessment plays an important role in the process of learning and motivation. The types of assessment tasks that we ask our students to do determine how students will approach the learning task and what study behaviors they will use. In the words of higher education scholar John Biggs, “What and how students learn depends to a major extent on how they think they will be assessed.” (1999, p. 141).
    • Given the importance of assessment for student learning, it is important to consider how to best measure the learning that you want your students to achieve. Assessment should integrate grading, learning, and motivation for your students. Well-designed assessment methods provide valuable information about student learning. They tell us what students learned, how well they learned it, and where they struggled. Good assessments allow you to answer the question,
    • What was it that my students learned in my course?
    • Assessment then becomes a lens for understanding student learning, identifying invisible barriers, and helping us to improve our teaching approaches.

    Is assessment important for our lives? How?
    Assessment is an integral part of any education or intervention programmed. Although it can be tempting to immediately start teaching skills, especially if you feel you know the child/young person well, it is beneficial to take the time to assess prior to intervention.
    The benefits of assessment are:

    1. Identification of strengths and difficulties
      Assessment will highlight an individual’s strengths, which can then be incorporated into the activities to be taught. Using an individual’s strengths can assist in making tasks more achievable and realistic, which then motivates them to persist with tasks.
      Assessment often reveals an individual’s interests. Many children and young people with autism have specialist interests which can be included in activities, therefore making the tasks more relevant and motivating.
      Assessment of course identifies areas of difficulty, which then informs goal setting and intervention planning.
    2. Goal setting
      Assessment, as explained above, highlights target areas for goal setting. When setting goals, it is essential to focus on areas of need and skills requiring improvement. Goals must be realistic and achievable so professionals and parents should not target areas of greatest difficulty.
      For example, if a child or young person has significant fine motor difficulties, tying laces would be an unrealistic target. It would instead be more relevant to teach the individual how to use Velcro fastenings on shoes or to target a less complex fine motor task such as zipping a coat or pegging clothes to a line. This still allows the development of life skills but within achievable limits for the individual.
      As stated above, goals should also incorporate the individual’s existing skills and strengths as this will facilitate the accomplishment of realistic goals.
    3. Teaching method
      Assessing children and young people with autism allows professionals and parents to determine their learning preference, which will then inform the teaching method used. Many individuals with autism show strengths in visual processing and this is frequently their preferred learning style. Skills will therefore be taught using visual systems, limiting the amount of instruction given.
      Others will of course have different learning preferences. Some may learn best when actively engaged with materials and therefore learn experientially.
    4. Measuring progress
      Assessment carried out before and after intervention allows a clear measurement of progress. It will show any improvements in the skills taught and confirm if goals have been successfully achieved. If progress has been made, this reinforces that the teaching method is appropriate and amendments to the intervention plan are not required.
      Successes should be celebrated with the child or young person as this will foster a sense of achievement and have an impact on confidence and self-esteem. When progress can be clearly shown, the individual will be more likely to be motivated to continue with skill development and move on to new tasks, thus increasing their skill repertoire.
      Assessment results can be shared with other professionals and relevant family members, giving evidence that improvements are being made and that the child or young person is successfully acquiring new skills.
    5. Identifying required amendments
      In some cases, assessment may show that the expected progress in a skill or task has not been made in the specified time frame. This does not necessarily mean that teaching that skill should be stopped; it may simply mean that amendments to the goal or to the teaching method are required. The task may need to be broken into smaller steps or the visuals used may need to be made clearer, for example adding photographs to a list of written instructions.
      Sometimes the student does not yet possess the prerequisite skills required for the activity so it may be necessary to refine these skills first and then return to teaching the task. For example, if the individual is not making progress in getting dressed independently, it may be useful to spend time on fine motor tasks to develop these skills which will then assist in tasks such as fastening b**tons and zips.
      Occasionally the individual may not be ready to learn that particular task. It can then be changed for a more achievable task.
      What is the link between critical thinking and assessment?
      Critical thinking skills have been identified as learning outcomes expected of students. Teaching towards developing thinking skills is quite recent, attempts are observed to find ways to infuse critical thinking into the tertiary curriculum. Assessment as learning promotes active thinking via self-assessment and exchange of feedback among peers.