What for assessment is needed? Some educators use marks to show their dominance and punish students for laziness. As a result, young people associate tests and exams with stress and experience the fear of defeat. It is worth remembering that a classroom is not a prison cell, and education is not aimed to upset learners. It should help them evolve, overcome obstacles, and become better people.

In this article, experts from Pro-Papers have explained what functions assessment should perform.

Support instead of oppressing

Grades should serve students rather than intimidate them, facilitate and individualize the educational process rather than provoke a pass/fail drama, function and bring benefits rather than make a spectacle of themselves.

Learners should not be perceived as robots forced to comply with formal requirements. After all, they are the most important figures in the class. The educational system exists and works to satisfy their needs. It is crucial for teachers to demonstrate flexibility, change instruction if it proves to be ineffective, collect data on students’ proficiency level, find inconsistencies between young people’s capabilities and academic standards, and develop better learning strategies.

The traditional grading system fails

Most academics do not strive to dig deep and analyze their students’ needs, forget what for an educator should come to a class every day, use teacher-centered approaches, and put themselves over their noble vocation – to help learners. Their main goal is to show colleagues and administrators that all formal rules are met, that they are diligent and obedient employees supporting the system.

Curriculum becomes more important than those for whom it is compiled. Young people’s opinion is not taken into account. They are not allowed to choose suitable activities and information channels, called lazy and not smart enough if their academic performance decreases, perceive educators as strict observers rather than friends and mentors.

Most professors believe that they have strong grading skills. In their opinion, it is enough to find mistakes in an essay and put a mark on the top, and no matter what will happen next. In fact, it is only the beginning of the long and complicated process of rebuilding learning pathways. An educator should find the most common mistakes, understand why students have made them, and what may be done to avoid negative patterns in the future.

But an academic community prefers shortcuts, does not strive to develop efficient approaches, maintains bureaucratic rules, and resists innovations. It is not at all surprising that it hopelessly lags behind the labor market and fails to prepare graduates for adult life.

To get better results, teachers should change their attitude towards grading, find out what young people know, can, and want to do. It is not enough to assess class statistics. Each learner’s background, talents, and motivations should be analyzed individually.

The constructivist model seems to be the most suitable for personalized assessment. It presupposes that students should create their own knowledge by constantly reflecting and improving learning strategies. But, unfortunately, this format is incompatible with many traditional instruction schemes used in most schools and universities.

In the framework of classical approaches, marks pop in, show students where they are failing, and disappear. Teachers do not work on errors and move to the next topic. But it is pointless to hope that knowledge gaps will be filled in without any efforts.

Grades are even sometimes perceived as the indicators of overall students’ intelligence and gifts, divide a class into A (smart, talented, diligent) and F (lazy, lagging, stupid) students, which negatively impacts young people’s self-esteem and learning motivation. At the same time, nobody explains what should be done to correct the situation. Educators just say: “You have failed. You are a bad learner.” What changes do they want to stimulate? Do they hope that academic performance will improve?  It is more likely that students would not want to come to a class the next day.

Teachers as the designers of knowledge

The ways to apply data encrypted in marks may change depending on a discipline, students’ age, and grade level. But anyway, all exams and tests should be held with the aim to collect information helping to understand where to go next, how to improve academic activities and re-teach students in a new, more efficient way. No mark should be put if a teacher does not plan to use for learners’ benefit. Why collect data if nobody needs it? It is better to spend academic time on something more pleasant and useful than stressful testing.

It is worth thinking well what grades may do for individual students and a whole class, analyzing young people’s answers and not just saying that something is wrong or correct. It is important to inspire and motivate learners, make them feel good if their marks are high, make them think about self-development and progress if results are low, explain why a certain person needs certain knowledge and how it will contribute to one’s successful future. Data may be shared with parents and other teachers, everyone who may be interested and help students to learn productively.

Of course, it is rather challenging for teachers to work one-on-one with everyone in a 30+ class, develop individualized strategies, and put learning results under a microscope. Happily, there are many edtech tools withdrawing data collection responsibilities from educators and shaping unique educational environments tailored to learners’ needs.