Function of Assessment
What is the Function of Assessment?
To answer well the question, “What is the function of assessment?” We must answer first, “What is the function of schooling?”
Of course, many volumes have been written about both of these questions, and the task here is to write about one page that is suitable for use on a ”portfolio website.” However, that will not deter us from our mission statement.
The brothers Johnson (not the band aid people), in their book on cooperative learning years ago took up the question of what is the function of schooling. They pointed out that some arguments went something like—“Everyone gets the same assignment and the same amount of time to do it,” or, “I score everyone’s work with the same guidelines, so everyone has a fair chance to get 100 points.” Perhaps not many educators would argue either of these points today—in the age of differentiation.
The Johnsons argued that the function of schooling is “to meet the needs of the learner.” We agree. What would be a good reason, a reason with integrity, for a nation to establish an elaborate school system if not for the purpose of meeting the needs of learners?
If that is the purpose of schooling, then, it follows, we would argue, that the function of assessment is “to lift the student toward learning.” Probably, however, to make full sense of assessment we need it to serve two functions: to clarify for stakeholders what learning progress is being made, and to guide and support the student toward learning. We would submit that the function on behalf of the student is the primary and prior function.
This portfolio website is devoted to the belief that assessment can, and must, serve both of the above purposes well. These purposes do not necessarily need to be in conflict with one another.
In the New Zealand Curriculum Exemplars website they offer an interesting treatment of the word “evidence.” In essence, they suggest that we need to take a broader view of what might be considered evidence about why the student is performing at a certain level. If we find out that a student’s mother has recently become seriously ill and that the student’s academic performance has also recently declined, we can consider the mother’s illness as a piece of evidence perhaps clarifying reasons for the performance.
David Berliner and others deliver speeches and papers about how studies show low income in the home correlates with low academic performance of the student. Poverty and “food insecurity” affected 20 per cent of our children even before the recent financial collapse of our economy. The fact that the only “evidence” we as a society seemed interested in about these students was their test scores is an indictment of our assessments.
We would argue that the stakeholder most abandoned and harmed by the current high stakes standardized testing environment is the student. Let’s reclaim assessment as a step we take to lift the student toward learning.