In business life measuring, metrics and performance have always been ways to get people to do the things management wants. Why? It is because people will focus their energy to the things they are rewarded for. This Forbes article gives a nice and short explanation of why everyone should spend enough time to think what we are measuring and how.

Yes, but the school world is not the business world!

I agree, if the school is seen as a place that prepares students to only perform well in written final exams. This “school world” is totally disconnected from the “real world” and only measures how good you are in the system inside the school universe. But is this what we really want? Do we want to teach our students to excel in school or in the real world? Is it important to know every capital in the world by heart or understand why they are capitals, what is their history, how could they be improved? These are questions that require broader understanding and ability to connect information and different views. These are questions from the real world and do not always have one “right answer” that could be tested in an exam.

This is of core question: Why do we assess students? If the answer is to do well in tests, then the How is easy to figure out – to train for and to do more tests. If the answer is to give the students the best possible readiness to do well in the real world, then the assessment should be done do in the same way things are done in the real world. This view does not exclude the need to acquire a lot of new information, just on the contrary. If we are to show how well we can do things in the real world, it requires a multitude of information. This information has to be gathered/read/seen and then applied to a real problem. If this can be done, it can be assessed.

This school vs. real world focus in assessment has to be decided by every country / district / school / teacher by themselves. This decision has to be written to curriculums and incorporated in the ways of teaching, learning and assessing.

Students are smart

”Students change their learning strategies to suit the style how the assessment is made” (Virtanen, Postareff & Hailikari, 2015; Biggs & Tang, 2007; Brown et. al, 1997). Like in the business world, the students are motivated positively (or negatively) by the things that are being measured. Sometimes we find motivation to reach a certain level in a set criteria and get external recognition from the teacher, parents or peers. Sometimes we aspire to learn something to feel good about ourselves. This internal motivation can be nurtured in school if we help students to assess their own progress and to set new targets how good they want to be in various skills.

If the assessment criteria is clear and the students know how the assessment is being made, they will focus their energy in that direction. I.e. if we need to memorize things to a test, we engage a reading streak just before the test to fill our head with facts that give the right answer. After this we clear this information to make room for the new data needed for the next test. On the other hand if we assess i.e. how you can build a wooden box as cheaply as possible, a student has to require information about: how to build (or buy) things, calculate the expenses and dimensions of different boxes, understand what boxes are used for etc. If the student knows he/she has to show this to a teacher as a process and to explain why he/she decided to do it this way, the student will try to connect new information with previous knowledge and store it for later use.

Isn’t the final grade the reason why we assess students?

From my perspective this is not the core question when it comes to learning. First of all it depends how the assessment was made and what was measured. The final grade can be a good indicator if assessment is done well and it measured the skill being evaluated.  It helps the student to understand how well he/she can master the skill against a set of criteria or (oddly enough) other students. Traditionally final grades and standardized exams are being used to rank students and thought to be objective. This is highly disputable if we only assess one part of students’ intelligence and skills.

I would rather emphasize the importance of continuous assessment. If you assess your own progress weekly and get feedback from your teacher and peers, you are able to change your actions and to set next targets for your own learning. Of course this means everyone has to know what are the skills being assessed and what are the criteria for each skill.

“Assessment directs studies and learning more than any other single factor” (Entwistle & Entwistle, 1992; Hodgson & Pang, 2012; Segers & Dochy, 2006; Struyven, Dochy & Janssens, 2005; Virtanen, Postareff & Hailikari, 2015).

This is a worthy quote to end this blog. Why do You assess students?