A Few Thoughts on Assessment (Testing)

A Few Thoughts on Assessment (Testing)
Lawrence P. Creedon – Helen Ross
In significant measure Benjamin Bloom’s cognitive domain taxonomy addresses the issue of
testing. To Bloom and his colleagues testing ought to focus on the creative aspects of
learning. The purpose of testing was not the recall and/or regurgitation of low order cognitive
information and comprehension. It had to do with higher order cognition such as analysis,
comparison and contrast, evaluation and application. The most creative aspect of testing
came in synthesis. Synthesis rests on the ability to take what has gone on before in low order
and higher order cognitive pursuits and then through synthesis of what was and is create
something new. Not necessarily new for humankind, but new for the learner. This is
laddering and weaving in a spiraling manner [Bruner] It relates to Vygotsky’s Zone of
Proximal Development. To constructivists it is how human beings come to know. It is how
the learner “creates” new knowledge.
In addressing the issue of testing Bloom commented:
Perhaps the most important condition [of testing] is that of freedom. This should include
freedom from excessive tension and the pressures to adopt a particular viewpoint. The
student should be made to feel that the product of his efforts need not conform to the view of
the instructor, or the community or some other authority….[lpc note: this implies the
textbook.] If the effort is to be creative, the student should also have considerable freedom of
activity – freedom to determine his own purposes, freedom to determine the materials or
other elements that go into the final product, and freedom to determine the specifications
which the synthesis should meet[Emphasis added] Creativity seems to be fostered by such
conditions. Too much control and too detailed instructions, on the other hand, seem to stifle
productivity. [loom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, paperback, 1956, p. 171]
Assumptions and Pre-requisites
1. For graduate students assessment or testing ought to be for the purpose of
synthesizing and applying new “knowledge” to individual practice. If what has been
“learned” cannot be synthesized into new “knowledge” for the learner then the
experience remains of limited value. It tends to perpetuate what is or has been rather
than addressing what ought to be.
2. An assessment experience ought to be rooted in student expectations for the learning
experience as well as in instructor “knowledge” of what it is that needs to be known
[ygotsky, Zone of Proximal Development]
3. For assessment purposes learning outcomes ought to be stated as rubrics. Students
ought to participate in the development of rubrics.
4. Grades ought not to be given in response to the normal curve. The normal curve is not
a factor in coming to know or in becoming competent. What others know or what “I”
know in relation to others does not add to my knowledge base or competence.
Competence is the capacity to do what needs to be done. Individual goals do not
submit to the normal curb. Excellence and competence is the capacity to do what
needs to be done regardless of how many others can do it. If all are competent, then
all are worthy of the highest grade available. [an “A”] r example, the goal of the
hospital is to make all people well. Hospitals do not determine wellness [rades]on the
normal curve.
Alternatives for Assessment
In developing assessment exercises for a given learning situation the quest ought to begin by
asking the question: How will this experience affect what I do, my practice?
If that question cannot be answered then the quality and effectiveness of the experience has
been minimal.
1. Students can address the above question is a wide variety of authentic assessment
alternatives including essay, oral report, roll playing, simulation, etc.
2. Students can form “Critical Friend” partnerships or groups. In this approach students
can, after the formal learning experience has ended, hold themselves accountable for
modifying their practice in response to the input of the learning experience. Critical
friends can work together on implementing specific “leanings” from the learning
experience. If the issue is one of that the students cannot be “trusted” to follow up
after the formal learning experience is over then that in itself is an indication that
competence and “best practice” is not a primary concern of the “learner.” The
message cannot be conveyed that learners cannot be trusted to learn and then to
practice what they have learned.
3. Students can develop individual or small group “Action Plans” addressing how the
learning experience will impact on what they do and how they practice. Using the
critical friends technique students can assess their effectiveness in implementing their
action plan.
4. Students can engage in a “Reflective Practitioner” exercise as individuals, pairs or in
small groups. In this context the “Reflective Practitioner” approach has four
components: 1. Describe what is currently being practiced, 2. Do research on what the
literature has to say about the topic or issue, 3. Synthesize a plan for what ought to be,
4. Carry out the plan.
5. Students can use their pre course expectations and rubrics and do an exercise in
determining to what extent the expectations have been addressed and to what extent
have the experiences and exercises in the rubrics have been met.
Essentially each of the above has to do with the same thing. Students ought to have the
freedom to determine own purposes, (expectations) freedom to determine the materials or
other elements that go into the final product, (conditions for learning) and freedom to
determine the specifications which the product of the learning experience should meet.
[rubrics] [Bloom, ibid., p.173].
The purpose of a learning experience is not to accumulate and regurgitate information. Rather, it is to
take the sum total of what the learning experience has had to offer[both good and bad], SYNTHESIZE it
with what is and develop a PLAN of ACTION for application of what has been learned to individual
practice. Assessment ought to be approached in this context.
Lawrence P. Ross, Helen L. Ross
June 2003

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