This week I have been speaking with Ms Kylie Begg, who is the GEMS MYP/IGCSE Coordinator, about assessment.
Mr Henry: A word that is synonymous with education is assessment. It comes in many forms and can be a cause for concern, stress or even confusion for students and parents. What does assessment mean to you?
Ms Begg: When I was in Primary school, assessment meant a multiplication test on a Friday afternoon. I would sit, nervously clutching my pencil, hoping to catch the answers as the questions were thrown at me. I was never happy with my score but would brush it off, saying it didn’t matter, and my scores never got much better. Later, assessment meant exams. Rows and rows of desks in a huge hall. Silence, except for the sounds of the ticking clock and scratching pencils.
Now, as a teacher, I see assessment as an opportunity. There may still sometimes be multiplication tests and quiet exams, but happily, there are other options to help us add to our picture of each student’s learning.
Mr Henry: I think many of the GEMS parents can relate to that memory of assessment. Could you elaborate though on the other options that we have in our school today?
Ms Begg: Assessment is an opportunity for students to prepare for their future. Students work on assessment tasks that require them to ask questions, work together, think critically and research to justify their ideas. Many of our assessments require students to access and evaluate web sources and to demonstrate academic honesty with this information.
As much of today’s world of work is done online, several of our standardised assessments are an opportunity for students to use their digital skills; ISA and CAT 4 assessments are online, and the MYP has launched standardised online assessments. With the IB Diploma announcing a move towards online examinations, offering these assessments in the middle years is a valuable opportunity to practise.
Mr Henry: But why do we need assessments?
Ms Begg: Assessment is an opportunity to help us better teach the students. We use assessment in our classrooms every day to see what the students have understood so far, and what we need to do next. Some of our assessments, such as CAT 4, help us understand individual learning styles and preferences so we know how new information can best be understood by that student.
Assessment is an opportunity to help us better design our curriculum. Some standardised assessment information, such as the ISA tests results, are used by each curriculum department to highlight areas within our curriculum that could be developed; what is taught, as well as how.
Mr Henry: That’s great to know that assessment data is used by the school to improve the quality of teaching and the curriculum but how should our parents view assessment?
Ms Begg: Assessment is an opportunity for teachers to inform students and their families about achievement in each subject. Students can feel pride in positive achievements, focusing on improvements they have made rather than scores alone. Assessment is also sometimes an opportunity to ‘fail well’, using instances of poor achievement to set goals, make plans, and take action to do better next time. Assessments should be seen by parents as a snapshot of their child’s current learning. Over time, multiple assessments provide a picture of each child’s progress.
The English philosopher, Herbert Spencer wrote that 'the great aim of education is not knowledge but action’. We must consider this point when we think about our assessment opportunities, and how we act on these to continually improve students’ learning and achievement.
Head of School