I’m not quite sure if I completely agree with how Newby et al. (2011) distinguish between assessment and evaluation. They define evaluation as “the process of gathering information from multiple sources in order to judge the merit or worth of a program, project, or entity” with the goal of improving “the instruction’s development and implementation”. Assessment, on the other hand, is defined as “the process of gathering evidence of what learners know and can do” as a means of “gaining a full understanding of the merit of specific instructional materials”. My concern with the definitions outlined by Newby et al. is the idea that evaluation is solely judging the value of curricula, materials, and teaching techniques, and assessment is solely judging learners’ performance as a reflection on the quality of curricula, materials, and teaching techniques.
I prefer the definitions outlined by Nitko and Brookhart (2011), in which assessment is defined as a broad term that includes tests, measurements, and evaluations. Assessment is defined as the “process for obtaining information that is used for making decisions about students; curricula, programs, and schools; and educational policy”. Evaluation is a more subjective term that involves “making a value judgment about the worth of a student’s product or performance”. Nitko and Brookhart continue on to point out that “(n)ot all evaluations are of individual students. You can also evaluate a textbook, a set of instructional materials, an institutional procedure, a curriculum, an educational program, or a school”. Tests and measurements are also distinguished. Tests are narrower than assessment and can be defined as the instruments or procedures for “observing and describing one or more characteristics of a student using either a numerical scale or a classification scheme”. Measurement is the procedure in which numbers or scores are assigned to a “specified attribute or characteristic of a person in such a way that the numbers describe the degree to which the person possesses the attribute”. Although it is important to remember the distinction between these terms, they are interrelated and can be used effectively to judge students, lesson material, policies, and educational institutions.
Basically, Nitko and Brookhart (2011) contend that both assessment and evaluation can be used to judge the quality of learners and educational institutions, programmes, or materials. This is in contrast with Newby et al. (2011) who use assessment only in relation to student performance and evaluation only in relation to material, curricula, and educational institutions. I will be using the term assessment as a means of judging both learners and materials, as explained by Nitko and Brookhart.
Now that I’ve exhausted the definition aspect of this reflection, I want to move on to a few misgivings I have about how assessment is currently used in most formal educational institutions. I recognise why students’ performance for grading purposes has become the (mostly sole) focus of assessment. However, in an ideal world, assessment should be used primarily to evaluate the learning and teaching process in order to make it as effective as possible. Regarding this matter, I agree with how Newby et al. (2011) use assessment of students as a means to critique techniques, curricula, and materials. However, as already stated, I don’t agree that evaluation is only used for materials, programmes, and curricula, and assessment as only used for students’ skills and knowledge. Too often people focus on assessing students in order to provide them with marks, and ignore the broader uses of data. Assessment should be viewed as a way of gathering information to improve the education process. This information comes from various sources: assessments which establish what students know and have yet to master, reflections on teaching practice and methods, and appraisals of materials, curricula, and educational institutes.
I am going to mention a few concerns that should be considered when assessing students. It is necessary to bear in mind the challenge of remaining completely objective when judging students’ knowledge and skills. The limitations of assessment procedures should always be taken into consideration. It is essential to recognise that there is a multiplicity of experience: learners are individuals that have different ways of understanding, and learn at different paces. I would argue that at a tertiary level, adult learners need to be more involved in their learning, and part of that includes being involved with assessment. The focus of education should be to develop the knowledge and skills sets of the individual in order that they can contribute to existing bodies of knowledge. The assessment process should facilitate this. As educators, our assessment of students should establish learners’ strengths and weaknesses in order to aid them in the learning process, and to help them find gaps in their own knowledge bases as well as ways teaching methods, materials, and curricula could be improved to fill these gaps.
The processes of judging learners and materials are inextricably linked. The ultimate aim of assessment should be continuous improvement and refinement of the teaching-learning process. Assessment should be used to measure learners’ improvement, to establish what is known and what still needs to be mastered in order to facilitate their learning and to improve the education process. Similarly, the purpose of assessing methods, materials, should be to advance learning and teaching.
Newby, T.J., Stephic, D.A., Lehman, J.D., Russell, J.D. and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A., (2011). Educational technology for teaching and learning. Boston: Pearson. Fourth Edition.
Nitko, A.J. and Brookhart S.M. (2011). Educational assessment of students (Kindle version). Available from Amazon.com.