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Assesment: Testing times

January 29, 2012

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When I was young I learnt about the four seasons. The next few years gradually made me realise that we actually have five seasons in a year, the fifth season usually befalls in the month of March or August. It is known as the exams season!

Not as bright, colourful, beautiful and fragrant as spring, nothing like summer when everything blooms and grows, very different from the golden hues of Autumn and not as cool and crisp as the winter breeze, the exam season for most parents is indeed a time of mourning. They lose their comfort and peace of mind as they bear more of a resemblance to trees shedding leaves. All kinds of entertainment, social activities are as good as banned during this season for the children as well as for their parents and the teachers, too. But it is a sensational earning festival for the tutors and coaching centres.

This is because in most schools here we only have a three-hour test activity to determine a child’s future by grading his or her abilities. Their low marks or failure in Mathematics or Science can limit their subject choices to arts or commerce.

What is assessment? The primary goal of assessment is to gather information about how much of the lessons a child has grasped. But this activity has now come to become more of a process of labeling a child’s work with “pass” or “fail” remarks.

Someone once asked an artist about how he moulded figures to create a beautiful sculpture. The artist replied, “I don’t carve the figures, nor do I visualise them. When I look at a piece of stone I can notice these hidden figures in it so I just remove the extra pieces from it with my chisel.

Assessment doesn’t mean to carve out a child into a desired shape. It facilitates in unleashing his hidden talents and abilities. Assessment and teaching lie parallel to each other. The teacher starts assessment by asking questions, listening to  the responses, observing class participation and so on and so forth.

Assessing young learners Someone has rightly said that young children are notoriously poor test takers. They sometimes get confused by being asked questions that they think the tester must already know the answers to. There is reason to suggest that the younger the child being evaluated, assessed or tested, the more errors are made (Shepard, 1994; Ratcliff, 1995).

Pressure After assessment or results what do we do with the slow learners or low mark achievers? Here most of the pressure goes to the parents or children.

How to assess The assessment of young children’s development and learning has recently taken on new importance. Direct assessments may make children feel anxious, incompetent, or bored and indirect assessments may put a burden on adults. Purposeful and systematic assessment requires decisions about what to assess (Catherine E. Snow and Susan B.).

In all the three approaches for Educational Credential Evaluators (ECE) mentioned earlier, the children are assessed by means other than traditional tests and grades. Instead, parents receive general descriptive information about their children’s daily life and progress and taking part in culminating productions or performances.

Our national curriculum is based on a high scope approach. The approach sees the child being assessed through comprehensive observations rather than narrow tests. Our curriculum recommended formal testing usually suggests comparing one child’s score with another, which is rather inappropriate for children, particularly young children. The kind of comparison is meaningless because children develop at their own individual and unique pace.

The following methods of assessment and record keeping are strongly recommended in our national curriculum for ECE:

• Checklist of children’s progress. • Portfolio of children’s work. • Progress report for parents.

But instead of following the national curriculum and its guidelines for early childhood education and assessment there is a trend in most schools to copy the system of elite schools, their report cards, or get ideas from the internet in order to come up with a criteria for assessing kids.

There are four major components for assessment—purpose, measurement, evaluation and use. A child’s behavior and performance could be different when measured. Evaluation involves professional judgment of the values or worth of the measured performance.

If the children are not good at reading they won’t be able to read and understand a question. So it would be good for the teacher to know the purpose of the assessment before marking a student’s response. She should develop her marking criteria on the basis of that purpose. It will help a lot in reducing the confusion and preventing wrong marking

A young and enthusiastic boy learned painting and placed his fresh work of art by the road side for people to see and comment on. He was astonished to find his painting full of remarks from people the next day. He also felt disheartened after reading the negative comments and broke down in front of his teacher. The teacher smiled and asked him to do the landscape again and place it at the same place one more time. But he instructed him to this time request the people to correct his mistakes instead of just pointing them out. Having done that he was surprised to find an untouched painting the next day. There was not a single mark on it the next day. So it is very easy to highlight others’ faults but very difficult to correct those mistakes.

Good assessment always improves students’ learning. It should not discourage the young learners or hurt their self esteem. The students must be assessed on what was taught to get an idea of their learning progress. For this they should be familiar with the test, and not be unfairly challenged. And the data collected from the assessment should be used to share  meaningful feedback so they can improve and enjoy the whole learning process.

Early childhood is a time for the most rapid developmental changes in a person’s life. The growth is episodic and highly influenced from the environment. Young children come to know things through doing and listening and often present their knowledge by showing. They don’t understand the goals of formal tests and assessment in the way older students do and are uninterested in tasks if they don’t see the merit of those tasks. Their content knowledge is most effectively assessed by asking them to perform tasks or by asking them to tell what they know. Most of their skills are not accurately assessed through paper and pencil tasks.

Article 25-A guarantees the right to free and compulsory education to all children from age five to 16 years in Pakistan. This free and compulsory education is to be provided by the state, which, by definition includes both the federal and provincial governments. There is a need to see how many children run away from schools after failing in exams.

The programmes we serve should be standardised and whatever assessments we conduct should ultimately benefit the children and their families.