Fair Assessments? Really?
‘How to make assessments that are fair to all learners despite their previous knowledge, family background, first language and interests?’ This question has been at the center of attention of educators for several years now. As we have started talking about ‘global education’ and ‘global citizenship’ and as people have started migrating from one part of the world to another, the need for fair assessment methods for a multi-cultural and highly diverse group of learners is need of hour. Since US is one of the important destinations of people from all around the world in terms of getting better work opportunity and living conditions, there is very mixed population here. Language is a major concern that is often ignored when testing learners coming from a non-English speaking community.
Curricula are basically designed based on the assessment standards of schools and state. Sleeter (2005) discovered that teachers found it almost impossible to be creative with it to be able to cater to a multicultural learner population. Those coming from a low-income background or those of colored ethnicity have different levels of understanding. Failing to cater to the needs of these learners’ results in reduced graduation rates due to under performance in exit exams or higher dropout rates. To overcome this problem, Gay (2002) recommends culturally relevant teaching to help leaners relate education to their culture and develop interest in it. It is however, not an easy approach to be able to relate to every learner in a classroom but learning can be diverse by drawing some relevance from cultures of learners in the class. This would definitely call for a more dynamic nature of curriculum and hence the assessment. How does one meet the standards then? This can be accomplished by having the teachers be part of deciding standards and also the assessment outcomes to help broaden the scope of curriculum along side leaving room for creativity and activity based learning in classroom.
Falk (2000) has further elaborated the advantages of evidence based learning and assessment methods to fairly judge teaching and learning. In this case, formative assessments provide a better picture than summative ones by carefully tracking a learners’ progress over time. It helps assess level of improvement made instead of expecting all learners to be at the exact same level at end of an assessment period. It is very important to build on the existing strengths of a learner and help overcome their weaknesses. To develop critical understanding, in-depth understanding is the key along with making connections between curriculum and real-life situations, opportunities to explore, varied learning situations etc. (Falk, 2000).
The ever-growing need for fair assessments has brought in the need for child advocacy. Since children cannot advocate for themselves, there are adults who do that for them to ensure that they all get equal opportunity to learn. Child advocates can be teachers, parents, principals or even those at Ministry of Education. Apart from family and cultural background, it is education that shapes a child’s future. It plays an important role in the developmental process of children, so it should be imparted in a way that does not stunt growth. In the race to meet the school and state standards, it is sometimes forgotten that fair assessment can be made in situations where equal opportunity is provided to all leaners. It means every school adhering to state standards should also be able to provide similar teaching and learning resources, highly qualified teachers and similar learning environments. This should be the responsibility of the state whereas the school should make sure that it implements equal opportunities to all students irrespective of economic or social status of learners’ parents.
Assessments are necessary but they should not put an overbearing stress on learner. Reflecting on my personal education experience, I find formative assessment more beneficial than summative one. My education so far has been based on summative assessments and I remember studying just a few days before the exams to get exceptionally good grades. But there used to be an additional stress and my critical thinking was not challenged much. But here are Teachers College, I am experiencing formative assessments, there are no exams but there are regular reflection papers and group reports to be worked on. I am being critically challenged and this has resulted in me forming certain beliefs along with giving my career a direction. Time-management and teamwork are other aspects that I am learning effectively.
There is no one right method of making an assessment. It should be left to the discretion of the teacher who works closest with students.
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