Understand Four Purposes of any Educational Assessment Process

Assessment (in education) is a continuous process of monitoring learning so as to determine learning achievement and effectiveness of the instruction. It can be done before the start of the new course or lesson, during learning or at the end of the lesson/ course. Data obtained from the assessment enable educators to improve the facilitation practices, helping learners change or modify their learning styles as well as to grade and award learning achievements. 
Assessment is the backbone of learning. It informs the progress of learner’s acquisition of knowledge and skills throughout the learning process. Assessment should tell whether learning is taking occurs or otherwise. Generally, if learning is the company, then assessment should be its manager. 

Due to its importance, sufficient attention should be given to any assessment procedure. Before preparing any test, a careful planning of the assessment process is necessary. This is the reason why the first step in conducting any assessment process is to plan. 

Planning of the assessment is a bit long process. It involves identifying the purposes of the assessment, identify the learning objectives, content areas and preparation of the table of specifications. In this article, I will cover the first step of identifying the purposes of assessment. 

Generally, any assessment process is reflected into four main purposes. Assessment is purposeful in terms of placing students, diagnosing students, forming teaching and learning and summing learning. 

These assessment purposes are sometimes referred to as functions of assessment or forms of assessment. I prefer to view them as purposes because it sound clear when you ask yourself for the reasons of testing students. 

Is it for identifying their learning needs (placing them), identify their learning misconceptions and misunderstanding (diagnosing), collecting data to document learning progress (forming) or to grade students for certification, ready for next lesson, next level of education or  employment(summative)? Let’s have a look on each of the main four purposes of assessment.

Placement Assessment
This is one of the main four purposes of assessment. This form of assessment is conducted to determining whether students have all the necessary requirements to pursue a new course or lesson. This assessment may answer questions like are the student’s prior knowledge allow them to pursue the new lesson or course? If students miss prerequisite knowledge, it will therefore be necessary to organize remedial classes for such students. 

Another good example is placing a new student into an education system which is completely different from the one he used to. For example, a Form Two student from Tanzania may not fit into a Form Two class in another country, say Uganda. To place this student into appropriate level, a kind of placement test should be given so as to identify his true class level. 

Formative Assessment
This is a kind of assessment conducted in the process of learning to determine the extent to which learners are achieving the intended learning outcomes. In the contemporary learner centered approaches, formative assessment can be viewed as the degree to which students use their prior knowledge and skills to interact with learning resources so as to develop new understanding, knowledge and skills in relation to the learning outcomes. 

In this form of assessment, facilitators should use assessment results to document learning progress by suggesting appropriate learning strategies, resources, and assisting individual learners with some learning challenges to achieve the intended outcomes. Formative assessments are most often prepared by subject/ module or course teachers. 

Diagnostic Assessment
Sometimes, it may happen that students have misunderstood a certain concept which in turn remain as a constant error. Such learning errors need to be pinpointed so that appropriate measures can be taken immediately. 

Identification of these leaning difficulties is done through diagnostic assessments. It is a form of assessment designed to pinpoint the sources of learning errors so that remedial measures can be planned. 

It helps to identify the learning problems which was not solved in formative assessments. It answer questions such as why students repeatedly fail to demonstrate sufficiently some intended knowledge and skills so that possible ways to solve such learning problems can be suggested.

Summative Assessment
It is a form of assessment which is conducted at the end of the course or lesson to determine whether the intended learning outcomes have been achieved. Data from summative assessments are used for awarding grades to students, reporting teacher effectiveness, certifying students, deciding students who will move to higher levels of education or into new lessons or for employment purposes. 

Contrary to other forms of assessments, summative evaluation may cover content area ranging from a single topic to all the areas taught throughout the course. Monthly tests, mid-term exams, terminal, annual exams and National Examinations are examples of summative assessments. 

Thus, before preparing any assessment procedure, it is very important for test developer to appropriately planning the test by first identifying the purpose of testing intended students. Other activities in the planning process include identifying the learning objectives, content areas and preparing a blue print (Table of specifications) which insures every learning domain is assessed based on how instructional objectives were stated.


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