In a previous article we described types of assessment processes and their function, and highlighted the key to understanding assessment feedback from teachers being knowledge of the learning outcome the assessment is focused on.
We referenced research revealing core principles of good feedback, which included that the assessment feedback is timely and enables further progress.
In instances where schooling and education are disrupted for communities and individuals, we often end up relying on information from formative assessments that report on learning-in-progress, rather than summative assessments for feedback, because not all curriculum content has been covered as expected.
For example, due to Covid-19 over the last two years, some schools have had to rely on predicted ATAR or, have adapted their final exam content, such as taking out the component of the English exam where students write essays on texts studied in class; instead doing only the ‘sight unseen component’ to textual analysis.
Formative assessments are designed to monitor learning and provide feedback throughout the learning process, in order to direct learning going forward. Students typically have involvement in this process, such as identifying strengths and weaknesses, or reflecting on progress in a learning journal.
Summative assessments provide a summary of learning achieved and assess the student against some sort of standard benchmark, e.g. a final exam.
The trouble with an over-reliance on summative assessments is the limited opportunity for students to understand how learning takes place and where to improve; this is why school systems have evolved over time to include the two types of assessment. As we illustrated with examples in our article on understanding the purpose of an assessment, the process needs to be ongoing rather than everything hanging on one big test at the end of the term – and this becomes all the more important during times of disruption to children’s education. Additionally, children with learning challenges around time management and information processing, or students who suffer anxiety are often at a disadvantage in traditional exam conditions.
While both forms of assessment are needed, we expect to see the shift from a heavy reliance on final marks to a more holistic approach as time goes on and we learn from current challenges.
While tutors will provide mock-exam and formal testing environments to help students cope under pressure, they will also structure their sessions to include recaps on previous topics and base a lot of their feedback on how students perform in a range of scenarios over time, rather than just in timed assessments or summative assessments at the end of each term. Of course, the 1-to-1 and small group tutoring set-up affords the tutor with the opportunity to get to know the student’s learning needs and progress in detail.