That Isn’t Assessment

Isn’t it time we got assessment right?

Assessment and evaluation are two different beasts yet teachers used them interchangeably as if they were the same thing.

When we assess children then we are gathering information in order to determine what changes we need to make to help improve performance: this ‘next steps’ assessment is formative in nature, fluid and organic.

Evaluation is not assessment.

To evaluate is to gather information in order to generate a judgment, a score or a level: this is ‘being graded’ and is summative in nature, judgmental and competitive.

Let’s not call it summative assessment, let’s call it what it is: evaluation.

For me assessment has always been about leaving the doors open and being in a position to coach and support, co-learn and be part of the learning journey to support upgrades in knowledge and understanding. Evaluation doesn’t do that. When you evaluate you look at numbers, figures, statistics and crazy pie charts and grumbling graphs. Evaluation is death by data and gives teachers a wonky crutch to use for parents’ evenings.

Evaluation doesn’t allow you to assess anything. A grade or level does nothing for learning because it is a snapshot.

Give someone a test and their grades are meaningless. This is like taking a photo of the UK weather. It changes and it is possible to get all four seasons in one day and so it is with testing.

Give the same test again 2 hours later and Pupil Z might do the same, better or worse. Which one do you pick?

Evaluation serves only one master: the accountability system.

Evaluation helps % loving data-driven high priests come up with more figures. They salivate over ‘data’ and say it helps them ‘assess’ – it doesn’t. It helps them evaluate and stick labels on children which invariably stay with them for life.

Data-heads sit together in a room somewhere and do a lot of nodding and number pointing mixed with a lot of head-shaking and arm-folding but they make zero contribution to learning.

Evaluation should feed back into the learning process but it is so outdated by the time someone has sat down and looked at a level and said, “Ummm”, that the evaluation is worthless.

Pupil Z needs your help not a figure or % and a ‘label’.

We’ve replaced Levels with the meaningless claptrap of beginning, beginning +, developing, developing +, secure, secure +, and exceeding. Not to mention Emerging, Developing, Expected, Exceeding, High.

How about a beginning developing insecure++ FSM learner with evidence of mastery and ADHD who does exceedingly well most of the time but not quite all of the time? These convoluted labels  serve no useful purpose.

Evaluation could be meaningful, creative and lead to improved understanding and communication around students’ learning needs but seldom is because it’s already too late to judge.

Assessment for learning is the only assessment strategy we need to truly help children as this is responsive teaching grounded in reality where the rubber hits the tarmac: the classroom.

If you want to evaluate then go sit with the data-dogs in an airless room and let them gnaw at the bones of snapshot tests. If you want to assess then do it with the children every step of the way.

If you are an Assessment Teacher then you are in the right job because assessment is reflective and diagnostic and you can make a difference.

If you are an Evaluation Teacher then teaching isn’t for you because this evaluation is rooted in a fixed-set mindset that is comparative and product-oriented.

See what the LKMCo report Testing the Water has to say about evaluation and assessment in relation to a Japanese school: the following text is taken from p37 of the report:

The Japanese word for assessment is ‘Hyōka’, although the word has two simultaneous meanings: • The first is ‘evaluation’, making absolute judgements about ability and competence.
• The second takes the meaning of assessment more broadly, as something formative that helps teachers and students learn something about themselves.

Mr Ohno is a teacher of Biology at Kunitachi High School. He feels most teachers in Japan take ‘assessment’ to mean evaluation: “I think this is a very big problem, [because] they don’t think about how to stimulate and [help students] grow.” Furthermore the emphasis of classroom assessment becomes about making summative judgements and providing grades, rather than informing next steps in teaching and learning.

It seems that evaluation and assessment are confused around the world too.

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