Current assessment practices do not reflect what students know, understand and what they can do. A new assessment literacy that emphasises evidence-based instruction and self-regulation in student learning should be promoted among the members of the academic community. Learning and teaching centres should play a crucial role in this transformative process.
Current assessment practices draw from long traditions, values and beliefs that are well rooted in higher education and, by default, mainly include summative, test-type final exams. This leads to a single score or grade providing only a snapshot of student performance. As a result, this type of assessment does not reflect what students really know, understand, and what they can do, nor does it create the diversity required to provide useful feedback on the development of student learning. On the contrary, it often leads students to focus on scores and grades as the only indicator of achievement and success and to develop strategies to help them get higher scores, while they pay no attention to learning.
Two important questions then arise:
Changing the paradigm in assessment would imply considering assessment as a process (and not a snapshot) of gathering evidence to inform education-related decisions for promoting student-centred learning. As pointed out by Manuel João Costa in a previous Expert Voices article, “assessment should be aligned with learning goals, be embedded in the curriculum, and in teaching and learning approaches.” Furthermore, such assessment should be part of quality assurance principles endorsed by higher education institutions.
However, to transform our beliefs and practices about assessment, assessment literacy needs to be further developed and shared among the academic community. Assessment literacy refers to all the knowledge of how to: a) assess what students know, understand and can do; b) interpret the results of these assessments; and c) apply these results to improve student learning and curriculum effectiveness. It also means that teachers are able to train their students to understand why their learning is being assessed in each context, how assessment can facilitate learning, instead of merely measuring it, and how to use assessment results to self-regulate their own learning. The implementation of this approach has implications for both policy and practice; it requires an assessment-literate institutional leadership and professional development programmes focusing on assessment literacy tailored to the needs of the teaching staff.
The role of an assessment-literate institutional leadership would, then, be to:
In the perspective of an institution-wide effort towards strengthening assessment practices and literacy, professional development programmes need to be designed and implemented. Learning and teaching centres should play a crucial role in delivering such programmes raising academic staff’s awareness about the institutional approach to assessment literacy and in supporting and monitoring teacher’s efforts by providing effective and stimulating feedback to help them move their assessment practice forward.
Given that assessment literacy starts with formative assessment processes or assessment for learning, which is inseparable from instruction and has an “improvement orientation”, learning and teaching centres should also guarantee the support of implementation of formative assessment by encouraging academic staff to address crucial issues, such as clarifying and sharing learning outcomes and success criteria, identifying tasks, activities and strategies that demonstrate and showcase student learning, finding ways of providing feedback that help students evolve, and, finally, adopting various methods for deploying evidence-based instruction.
Last but not least, assessment literacy is particularly needed nowadays for containing the effects of the pandemic on student learning. Since being assessment-literate also means being better equipped for identifying the stage of progression in the student learning journey, it will help teachers and students alike to address unfinished learning outcomes against intended ones, and fill knowledge and skill gaps.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.
A successful curriculum is interdependent with a successful assessment. Manuel João Costa from the University of Minho emphasises the importance of institutions understanding their own assumptions about assessment, and remaining open to changing practices, including by partnering with students.Read more