In our traditional system of education, school assessment is based primarily on our memory and skills to reproduce what we have learnt. It demands evidence of how much and how well pupils have learnt, mainly through written work – as homework or as performance in in-school tests and public examinations.
According to John White, today, assessment has different purposes:
• Diagnosis: To see how to help learners overcome obstacles and move on.
• Accountability: To judge how schools are doing, with public expenditure and parental choice in mind.
• Post-school objectives: To help students compete for jobs, or university and college places.
If the assessment is from a well-being point of view, diagnostic assessment is precious, but John White opines that summative forms of assessment like SAT and GCSE are problematic. Preparing for public examinations takes up a lot of time that could have been spent on other worthwhile pursuits. If one does badly in these examinations, it may take a heavy toll on one’s psychological health. The person could be affected by anxiety or depression. In addition, this preparation is often experienced as a form of rigid, heteronomous work, and it reinforces the work culture that we discussed in previous parts. According to John White, sociologically, the public examination system tends to favour more affluent and education-savvy families. It also helps to reinforce the social divisions in well-being mentioned above.
To focus on the aim of a flourishing life, there must be better ways of assessing learning. Standard examination tells us what a student can do in examination conditions to display their knowledge. Good results do not tell us anything about a student’s attitude towards that subject. It does not tell anything about whether they love that subject or not. Standard examinations, says John White, are not good at testing non-standard understanding like self-awareness or insight into human well-being.
In a well-conceived education system, the teacher’s work is in continuum with that of the parents.
These facts will lead us to a question. How do we assess a child’s progress in the well-being area? It can be evaluated more effectively by the people who know the child well. For example, the parents. Parents do not have to take steps to find out how well their very young children are doing in speaking, being nice to their friends, and getting stuck into things they enjoy. They pick this up from what they see and hear in everyday interactions with them.
In a well-conceived education system, the teacher’s work is in continuum with that of the parents. This is especially true in the case of primary-school teachers. To some extent, teachers do not have to take steps to assess what children have learned. In primary schools, children usually have the same teacher throughout the day, so the teachers would be able to pick up the progress of students from what they perceived around them. They see their pupils interacting co-operatively on shared tasks. They gain a good idea from children’s oral and written work of how their cognitive maps of the world are being built up. However, this is not enough because a teacher has to deal with about 30 students in a class. So, the teacher has to use some system of recording to see how every child is progressing.
Standard examinations, says John White, are not good at testing non-standard understanding like self-awareness or insight into human well-being.
Secondary teachers are far away from parents in our current system. However, they can and do get a long way through regular monitoring and more systematic recording of progress and problems.
To focus on the aim of a flourishing life, assessment should be remodelled in a way that we could assess the record of achievement and the commitment of a student. The more the assumption is challenged that the ideal form of education is one that continues end-on to school into full-time higher education at 18 or 19, the easier it will become for schools to break free from the stranglehold of current curriculum and assessment regimes.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of the shortcomings of assessment within the current public education system?
Can you think of how the assessment system could be remodelled to ensure well-being in education?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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