Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Do We Need to Assess? My Top 5 Reasons

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about why schools in Finland are successful. There was one sentence in this article that really stuck with me.

“We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.” 
- Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

I think this sentence captures the essence of why we should assess learning and performance. It is important to realize who all benefit from assessment. While the learner needs to be at the core of any assessment strategy, instructional designers, subject matter experts and schools or organizations also tend to benefit from the assessment exercise. But we need to appreciate that assessment is about learning and not (only) about numbers.

As Richard J. Stiggins in his article, Assessment Crisis: The Absence Of Assessment FOR Learning, says “Assessments of and for learning are both important. If assessments of learning provide evidence of achievement for public reporting, then assessments for learning serve to help students learn more. The crucial distinction is between assessment to determine the status of learning and assessment to promote greater learning.”

So, here are my top 5 reasons for assessing learning and performance:
  • To identify gaps in performance and learning needs (pre-assessment)
  • To encourage and support learning (continuous assessment)
  • To measure learning and improve achievement (continuous assessment)
  • To prepare learners for the next step in the learning journey (post-assessment)
  • To seek feedback and areas of improvement in the instructional design process (continuous assessment)
Assessment is a collaborative and ongoing process. It is about both me as an instructional designer and my learner as the key customer. By leveraging a continuous two-way feedback process, assessment can help learners take responsibility for their own learning and help instructional designers become more responsible about the design of appropriate learning interventions.

As a training consultant, my goal is to use assessment to encourage learning, promote reflection and educate so that everyone becomes a better learner. I leave you with the following quote by Dave Carter: "Teachers assess to test; educators assess to assist learning".


  1. I find this very interesting and it is sometimes difficult to get the mix right. I have started with giving my students portfolios to submit, in which they reflect on the work done in class and feedback received. I would like to 'perfect' this as an assessment tool instead of an assignment. Your input would be appreciated.

    1. Thanks for your comment Delas. Glad you found this interesting. Using portfolios to encourage learning and promote reflection is a good idea. In order to be used as an 'assessment device', a portfolio needs to be 'designed' in the right way. Here is a useful article that discusses the design of assessment portfolios.
      Also, I don't think there would be any way to make this a 'perfect' assessment. There are points of failure in the use of portfolios as assessment tools. As educators, if we are aware of the opportunities and pitfalls of using portfolios and choose their use wisely, we know we have done a good job at making the right environment for learning and transfer.