All Assessment is Self Assessment

mirrorHow do you know if you have done something well? How do you know if you have done it badly? Think of something you have done recently. Was it successful? Could you have done it better? Was it a complete disaster? How do you know this?

I expect there are a variety of ways that you know that depend on what it was you were doing. Here are some possibilities.

  • Success defined by a simple result. Did I win the tennis match, complete the Sudoku or the crossword? Have I achieved the goal set out?
  • Other people’s reactions in terms of what they do. Did the class work well? Did the meeting move forward productively? Did the teacher improve their teaching?
  • Other people’s feedback. The class may fill in a response form. You may be told your teaching is excellent. A thank-you from a grateful parent. A peer praises your work.

Or, you just know. You finish what you have done with a buzz of confidence that you have done it well.

Rarely, in adult life, is the feedback a grade or mark given by someone else, but for students we must add this way of understanding their success as well. However artificial we may view this kind of feedback, it is the most common form in schools whether it comes from criterion based rubrics or norm referenced tests.

In reality, very often, our understanding is a mixture of all these elements. We combine objective measure, others behaviour, their comments and crucially our own personal feelings. All of these add up to our understanding of our success of whatever it is we have done. Professionally, and perhaps personally, we can’t help doing this. We judge ourselves and criticise ourselves all the time. How often has a teacher come out of a classroom and not thought about how well the lesson went? It is our professional obligation to do this, but fortunately it is our natural reaction too. We tend to be advocates of Socrates’ dictum “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

The point here is that the judgement of our success that matters takes place in our own heads. We take note of external factors, but add them together and construct the judgement ourselves. The judgement that matters is self-judgement because that is the only one that, in the end, will have any effect on what we do next.

In education there is still a tendency to see the assessment as the outcome. Much has been written elsewhere on the way in which a grade or mark closes down discussion and reflection. Assessment that does this has no real value in learning.

The point is that, if the student did not react to it, the assessment would be useless. The student needs to look at the assessment, wherever it comes from and understand it through the lens of their own learning. It is not the grade or the comment or the rubric that has the effect but the student’s reaction to it. The student’s reaction is the real assessment; hence the phrase All Assessment is Self Assessment. To paraphrase Socrates “The unexamined assessment is not worth giving”.

For more thoughts on assessment see the post “The students themselves must be the measure…


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