New Blog: What can business teach us about assessment?
I happened to be re-reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People recently. Habit 2, Begin with the end in mind set me thinking about the recent anguished debate about ‘teaching to the test’. Covey sets out the principle of envisioning the future so that you can plan and work towards it – which, in business, is kind of sensible. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how do you know when you have got there?
So, I am puzzled. Taking that into account, why would ‘teaching to the test’ be seen to be unhelpful, or potentially devious? Surely, good assessments start out with the end in mind? What learning would you wish to take place and how can this be judged? Setting objectives is key to a good assessment tool, mapped against knowledge, understanding, application of whatever conceptual framework is being used. Not only is this fundamental for curriculum and assessment planners, but also for the students themselves. How else can appropriate goals be set, learning plans developed, disciplined study take place and reinforcement regimes set up?
So, what does the objection to ‘teaching to the test’ really mean? What is it code for? All I can think of is a framework of past experience, past teaching methods and an age when questions were set up as:
- Define a concept.
- Describe an experiment to show the concept.
- Solve a numerical problem that relates to the concept.
(Do you remember those?)
This, of course, led to a massive industry in ‘learning’ past questions and answers and a hope that ‘one of those will appear in the examination’. I confess to raiding the University Library for the bound volumes of past questions in my younger days and being thankful for drumming them into my head!
If it means that, then I agree. Probably not the best way of developing reproducible learning.
So, let’s be clear what we mean here. No mutual misunderstanding. Setting objectives, being clear about what is wanted, helping learners along the route, supporting failure until it becomes success has to be right. I’d vote for that form of ‘teaching to the test’. So would many others who have seen the power not only of good, pupil-centred teaching, but also the contribution that the e-Assessment industry has made to facilitating the reinforcement of learning. Do you agree?
‘So, what?’, I hear you say! Well, that’s what the e-Assessment Association is all about. Raising awareness with key influencers in education, who set the policy, give out the ‘sound bites’ and who can set the tone for a real improvement in learning for the future. We champion the causes.
The new eAA awards have a category related to both formative and summative assessment. If you’re in that field, why don’t you put yourself forward? You’ll be adding to the sum of good practice and helping to dispel that ‘old school’ thinking and making ‘teaching to the test’ a thing to be championed. You can find the details on the Awards Website here.
Graham is a Board member of the eAA and supports awarding organisations with tackling key issues of the moment, helping prevent costly mistakes and bringing thirty-plus years’ experience of educational change to bear. He can be contacted through the e-Assessment Association.