Assessment, AS, FOR, and OF Learning

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

Image Credit: Victoria (Australia) Department of Education and Training

The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning.

I came across this while working on my book. This approach has become part of the teaching ideology throughout much of Canada (2006 for most of western Canada, 2010 for Ontario, and I’m not sure about the rest of Canada).

I had not heard of this (not being a classroom teacher) and so had to look it up.

Here’s the skinny:

  • AS: This one is formative and is intended to be used to help students learn.
  • OF: This is the usual – summative assessment designed primarily to produce a grade or mark.
  • FOR: This is diagnostic assessment to inform teaching.

Very catchy.

While I think the idea is a really good one, I have to wonder if this sort of thing is another one of those labeling exercises invented by a bunch of academics and education ministries that ends up restricting what we do rather than enriching and informing it. I think if I had to identify my assessments explicitly in those terms during the design of my courses, my assessments would end up being less organic than they are now.

When I think about it though, most of the assessment I do now would be classified in the “for” and “as” categories. My approach these days is to design things for the students. If they learn what I need them to learn, I win (and so do they). I find that the “of” part is a side-effect of the other two, and the easiest of the three to design.

I’m always interested in learning more about how to teach and assess, but I’ve been teaching a very long time and I’ve seen a lot of ideas come and go. I have a pretty good idea of what I am comfortable with – even a really good idea will fall flat if it’s not the right fit for the person implementing it. It’s one reason why I don’t use narratives in my gamified courses.

Since I have the luxury of designing my courses more or less how I choose, I mostly use what I learn to tweak things rather than adopting some new (or re-imagined, or contrived) doctrine. Can you tell I’m a little cynical? On the other hand, what I’m going now is the result of probably 20 years of experimentation and revision. My 1st 15 or so years of teaching don’t really count – there are exceptions of course, but I think many start off teaching pretty much the way they were taught, and it’s not until they have some miles under their wheels that they begin to be able to experiment. In my case I had to get to a pretty deep comfort level with the material itself before I could play around with it. I’ve taught computer science most of my career, and it’s rare to get a class where the instructor is the expert on everything. There are always a few kids who know more about something I’m teaching than me. If I’m not really solid on the material then it’s hard to keep their respect.

So, assessment AS, OF, and FOR is a great idea, just so long as it doesn’t become yet another formality imposed on teachers by administrations.

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