To assess, or not to assess, that is the question indeed

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with assessment.
When I was a student in Russia, I knew that it was all about scores and rankings. At university, I realised that assessment can be different and can be aimed at measuring how good you are at providing supportive arguments and structuring your assignment. However, neither in Russia nor in the UK, it was about me as a person. In Russia, schools are doing everything possible and impossible to have as few F students as they can. In the UK, the university failed to take into consideration my background and those difficulties I had to face as an international student for whom English was a second language and who was educated in a totally different environment where different criteria were cherished.
No wonder that when I became a teacher myself, assessment became my nightmare and a constant source of anxiety.

How to measure effort? Creativity? Engagement?
How to come up with criteria that will provide you with reliable data?
How to make sure each and every student in my class will be able to complete the assignment without saying that it was too easy or too difficult but just challenging enough?

Stakeholders want numbers and pie charts demonstrating that their investments have paid off. Academic managers want proof that they made the right choice when they decided to hire you. At the end of the day, assessment becomes a tool that is used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. Some might say that if a teacher is effective, their students make progress. True. But your effectiveness should not be the main concern when assessing students.

In most cases, what assessment lacks is the focus on learners.

As a learner myself, I know one thing: motivated or not, too harsh on yourself or not, you always know exactly how you’re doing. You know if you haven’t been studying hard enough. You know if you have tried your best. You know when you have finally mastered some structure or topic. You know what structures or topics you still have to master.

When I assess my students, I always turn to their expertise. Who, but them, know how they have been doing all that time and what, if something, has stopped them from achieving more? I don’t grade. Grades are meaningless unless there are very specific, detailed and objective criteria – which is hardly attainable. Instead, I ask my students how they feel about their learning process. Do they think they have made any progress? What do they think they should still work on and how could they do it? If they love grades then which one would they give themselves and why?

Of course, I take notes and make comments. Of course, I do not eliminate myself from the process completely. Students need our feedback, our encouragement.

Whenever I do some progress check, I always tell my students: this is not for me, this is for you. For you to evaluate your progress and see your strengths and weaknesses. For you to reconsider your learning route. Learning is by nature a solitary activity. You can have a teacher and classmates, but your learning journey is yours only and no one else’s. And it’s totally up to you where it brings you.

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