The Impossibility of Assessment

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

What is learning? In my mind one has learned something when new information has been gathered. Learning is a process involving interaction with new information and a process of meshing this new information with material previously learned. My early training formed me according to this “constructivist” technique and developed notions in me that best educational policy focused on creating events in the classroom that assisted students in the process of meshing new info with old info.

If this is learning defined, how do we understand that learning has occurred? As a personal process we rely solely on the individual learner to prove that learning has occurred. Traditionally, the student’s performance on an assessment provides this proof. This secondary task, removed and yet related from the process of learning, is recognized as the only real form that a student can prove that learning has occurred. At play are two major ideas: “evidence” and “accountability”. Both connect to the two players in the learning process: the learner or beneficiary of the education and the institution or educator functioning for the institution who functions as the provider of information and activities designed to assist in the learning process.

Consider the process of education a game. In this game we have two players, the learner and the teacher, striving to a common goal of expanding the knowledge of the learner. Ideally, both players are working towards the benefit of the learner player. Of course complications factor in here: student resistance to learning and other learner-related complications can make this game of education a far more complicated task. Education is not simple, but in this game model both players utilize evidence and accountability to determine success. If a student provides evidence of learning the institution is determined to have met the expectation of accountability: the student has learned new knowledge and the institution’s goals have been met.

Throughout history this game model of education has been the underlying function of institutions and the students functioning within in. This game has not changed through history. Though the details have changed, evidence and accountability are the common points of focus. We obsesses still over the provision of evidence and the market of education has developed devices to make this pursuit more efficient: now we have the field of learning analytics and a focus of technology on learning management systems that gather certain points of data that the institution can used to prove learning and establish accountability. The game remains the same but the tools of the trade have changed; while accountability and evidence have always existed as major points of focus it is data-driven tech that has adjusted the game of education.

With learning analytics the institution has a window into student performance in a class. Moving beyond the performance on an assessment, an institution can observe rates of engagement, forms of communication and other points of data which serve as points of comparison with a peer group. The LMS provides an institution with behavioral data on each student- there remains no proof of learning because, as I mentioned earlier, learning as an inherently personal process which remains beyond all outside forms of assessment: only a student knows when learning has occurred.

Data garnered from an LMS and considered under the process of learning analytics provides powerful abilities to an institution. In service to the need for evidence to establish accountability, these tidbits of information are powerful tools to track and assist students. Responses stemming from considerations of this data can set in motion the process of assisting students with signs of difficulty. A student who displays behaviors trending to students who perform poorly can be re-assigned a greater amount of focus and steered towards behaviors more in line with students who succeed. Here again the dependence on behavior data to drive a student to learning.

Learning is an inherently personal task. Educators and institutions tasked with preparing a new generation of citizens faces the challenge of assessing one task (learning) through the use of assessments that consider other factors. Assessments provide data on test performance, testing skill or the communication skills of the student. Assessments focused on learning material do have value and will assess an amount of learning but I argue that there are limitations here and it is impossible to truly assess a student’s learning. The perfect assessment is an oxymoron and no device exists that proves 100% accurate evidence that learning has occured.

If the perfect assessment does not exist how do we assess learning? If our evidence is not truly reflective of reality how can we base accountability on this information? A better system of accountability focuses less on the raw data of education (gathered via faulted assessments) are more on a broadly based consideration of student growth within the classroom. Our students are better served by this system as institutions tasked with preparing the future generation will benefit from a system that more closely recognizes the process of education and inherent limitations of assessment.

work on this assignment. Your answers are correct, but I would like to see more depth and detail in your responses. For additional points, go back and expand your responses or increase the clarity of your response. 

Mr. Woollams

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