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In my last post I talked about throwing exams out. In this one, I’ll discuss how to use them.
I believe the greatest mistake made with assessments is that they are viewed as an indicator of worth, either the student’s or the teacher’s. An assessment does not tell you if a student is smart, a hard studier, or good at English. An assessment does not tell you how effective a teacher is or how much they should be paid. Tests should never be used in the sense of pass/fail for either teachers or students. Using tests in this way ignores the realities that most tests are not designed well, don’t necessarily measure what we want them to measure, don’t take into account the level and needs of the students, and don’t encourage mistakes or skill development.
Assessments are merely a tool like any other in the teacher’s toolbox. If used correctly, an assessment can show you where students are struggling and what areas were not taught well. If the class average is 80% and Jimmy only got a 20%, it’s a good bet he needs some extra help. If everyone got that question about the present perfect wrong (not that anyone ever really understands the present perfect ), it’s probably because it wasn’t taught well.
The greatest value of assessments come from the practices we put into place after viewing the results. Assessments should help us determine where to go next. If Jimmy is doing so poorly, we now need to find out why and come up with a plan to help him to better. If none of the students understood the present perfect, we need to find out where they are confused. We then have to look back at our lessons on it and determine why we failed to create the conditions for learners to grasp the concept.
Assessment doesn’t just tell us what went poorly, it also tells us what went well. If all the students got something right, it must have been taught effectively. We should ask ourselves how we can use elements of that lesson to help teach other aspects of the course. It also tells us which students are up for more of a challenge.
What do you do with the information you learn after giving an assessment? Does it influence where your attention is focused, the direction you take, the amount of material you cover, what you review? If not, maybe you shouldn’t bother giving the test in the first place