Assessment is a way of finding out if learning has taken place, but it’s also necessary to assess the entry behaviour / understanding of your learners as well as checking to see if objectives have been met. In this article, based on an assignment prepared as part of my PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) course, I’ll be considering different assessment types, and also the need for good Record Keeping. Records are kept to show how learners are progressing and are essential in allowing a learner to complete a course and gain the qualification for which they have studied.
Assessment can be formative (on-going) or summative (at the end), and can be formal or informal. It is about collecting information, making judgements based on interpreting that information, and then deciding on the relevant course of action to achieve the course objectives. Formal assessments include written, oral and practical tests or recorded observations (using video, Dictaphone or witness statements, for example), and their marks contribute towards the qualification in hand. These are objective, being graded and marking a point at which a student might progress or need further teaching on a particular thread.
Whilst formal assessments tend to be time-bound (by which I mean time limited tests as well as the fact that they are scheduled at certain points in a course), informal assessment is, in a sense, always happening – the teacher is constantly watching learners, listening to responses and making judgements as to their attitudes and progress: these are mostly subjective and not officially recorded. At points learners can assess themselves and each other in pair and group work. Assessment can also be carried out by someone from elsewhere within the teaching organisation (internal) or from outside, for example the examining body or a funding organisation/ authority (external).
For my subject area, Livestock Production, a lot of assessment can be practical – something that particularly suits the type of student attracted to these studies (i.e. less academically gifted), though other testing methods might be used, depending on the level of qualification. A BTEC course requires written assessment in the form of assignments, for example; on the other hand, a smallholders evening course will not, and assessment will be largely informal.
As mentioned above, initial assessment is critical. Again, this can be informal (assessing levels of previous learning / knowledge through introductory tasks) or formal (e.g., the need for an entry exam / test). An example is the free writing exercise required at the beginning of a PTLLS course – this was used by the tutor to assess levels of understanding, experience and expectation, as well as being an opportunity to check literacy and communication skills. From an initial assessment the teacher knows where to start, how and at what level to pitch course content, and, to a lesser extent, what type of learners to expect – a well designed initial assessment might even reveal a little about the learning styles of the group. A very valuable planning aid!
A word about the evaluation of courses – often a written document, completed by the learners – which gives a good indication of an individuals’ progress and understanding, as well as helping to design / redesign future courses. This type of assessment tells tutor and course leader alike how well a course ‘works’, as well as indicating how effective a teacher is.
You need to keep records of learners’ progress. The key ones would be an attendance register (to show that students have completed the required hours of formal study); a grading grid (to record any tests and assignments completed and the grades achieved); some form of profile document (which records key information about individuals’ achievements, challenges, any tutorial notes about attitudes, prior achievements, and progress reports for example); and evaluation sheets, discussed above (if these are completed during the course the teacher and their managers can ‘tweak’ the course accordingly).
Without adequate written records the course cannot be formally completed and awards awarded – the types outlined in the previous paragraph constitute a collection of evidence that a given objective has been achieved. Recording must be accurate, as assessment information is among the most sensitive information with which a teacher deals. It should also only be accessible to those that need to have access to it – i.e. those directly involved in the course designed to meet the particular learning objective.