Resource 2: Assessing progress and performance
Assessing students’ learning has two purposes:
- Summative assessment looks back and makes a judgement on what has already been learnt. It is often conducted in the form of tests that are graded, telling students their attainment on the questions in that test. This also helps in reporting outcomes.
- Formative assessment (or assessment for learning) is quite different, being more informal and diagnostic in nature. Teachers use it as part of the learning process, for example questioning to check whether students have understood something. The outcomes of this assessment are then used to change the next learning experience. Monitoring and feedback are part of formative assessment.
Formative assessment enhances learning because in order to learn, most students must:
- understand what they are expected to learn
- know where they are now with that learning
- understand how they can make progress (that is, what to study and how to study)
- know when they have reached the goals and expected outcomes.
As a teacher, you will get the best out of your students if you attend to the four points above in every lesson. Thus assessment can be undertaken before, during and after instruction:
- Before: Assessing before the teaching begins can help you identify what the students know and can do prior to instruction. It determines the baseline and gives you a starting point for planning your teaching. Enhancing your understanding of what your students know reduces the chance of re-teaching the students something they have already mastered or omitting something they possibly should (but do not yet) know or understand.
- During: Assessing during classroom teaching involves checking if students are learning and improving. This will help you make adjustments in your teaching methodology, resources and activities. It will help you understand how the student is progressing towards the desired objective and how successful your teaching is.
- After: Assessment that occurs after teaching confirms what students have learnt and shows you who has learnt and who still needs support. This will allow you to assess the effectiveness of your teaching goal.
Before: being clear about what your students will learn
When you decide what the students must learn in a lesson or series of lessons, you need to share this with them. Carefully distinguish what the students are expected to learn from what you are asking them to do. Ask an open question that gives you the chance to assess whether they have really understood. For example:
Give the students a few seconds to think before they answer, or perhaps ask the students to first discuss their answers in pairs or small groups. When they tell you their answer, you will know whether they understand what it is they have to learn.
Before: knowing where students are in their learning
In order to help your students improve, both you and they need to know the current state of their knowledge and understanding. Once you have shared the intended learning outcomes or goals, you could do the following:
- Ask the students to work in pairs to make a mind map or list of what they already know about that topic, giving them enough time to complete it but not too long for those with few ideas. You should then review the mind maps or lists.
- Write the important vocabulary on the board and ask for volunteers to say what they know about each word. Then ask the rest of the class to put their thumbs up if they understand the word, thumbs down if they know very little or nothing, and thumbs horizontal if they know something.
Knowing where to start will mean that you can plan lessons that are relevant and constructive for your students. It is also important that your students are able to assess how well they are learning so that both you and they know what they need to learn next. Providing opportunities for your students to take charge of their own learning will help to make them life-long learners.
During: ensuring students’ progress in learning
When you talk to students about their current progress, make sure that they find your feedback both useful and constructive. Do this by:
- helping students know their strengths and how they might further improve
- being clear about what needs further development
- being positive about how they might develop their learning, checking that they understand and feel able to use the advice.
You will also need to provide opportunities for students to improve their learning. This means that you may have to modify your lesson plans to close the gap between where your students are now in their learning and where you wish them to be. In order to do this you might have to:
- go back over some work that you thought they knew already
- group students according to needs, giving them differentiated tasks
- encourage students to decide for themselves which of several resources they need to study so that they can ‘fill their own gap’
- use ‘low entry, high ceiling’ tasks so that all students can make progress – these are designed so that all students can start the task but the more able ones are not restricted and can progress to extend their learning.
By slowing the pace of lessons down, very often you can actually speed up learning because you give students the time and confidence to think and understand what they need to do to improve. By letting students talk about their work among themselves, and reflect on where the gaps are and how they might close them, you are providing them with ways to assess themselves.
After: collecting and interpreting evidence, and planning ahead
While teaching–learning is taking place and after setting a classwork or homework task, it is important to:
- find out how well your students are doing
- use this to inform your planning for the next lesson
- feed it back to students.
The four key states of assessment are discussed below.
Collecting information or evidence
Every student learns differently, at their own pace and style, both inside and outside the school. Therefore, you need to do two things while assessing students:
- Collect information from a variety of sources – from your own experience, the student, other students, other teachers, parents and community members.
- Assess students individually, in pairs and in groups, and promote self-assessment. Using different methods is important, as no single method can provide all the information you need. Different ways of collecting information about the students’ learning and progress include observing, listening, discussing topics and themes, and reviewing written class and homework.
In all schools across India the most common form of recording is through the use of report card, but this may not allow you to record all aspects of a student’s learning or behaviours. There are some simple ways of doing this that you may like to consider, such as:
- noting down what you observe while teaching–learning is going on in a diary/notebook/register
- keeping samples of students’ work (written, art, craft, projects, poems, etc.) in a portfolio
- preparing every student’s profile
- noting down any unusual incidents, changes, problems, strengths and learning evidences of students.
Interpreting the evidence
Once information and evidence have been collected and recorded, it is important to interpret it in order to form an understanding of how each student is learning and progressing. This requires careful reflection and analysis. You then need to act on your findings to improve learning, maybe through feedback to students or finding new resources, rearranging the groups, or repeating a learning point.
Planning for improvement
Assessment can help you to provide meaningful learning opportunities to every student by establishing specific and differentiated learning activities, giving attention to the students who need more help and challenging the students who are more advanced.