There is more, well, “stuff” written about assessment than most areas of education. Not all of this stuff is nonsense and there seems to be a prevailing view that assessment provides the key to the success of the educational project. I am not so contrary that I am going to suggest that assessment is not important. Of course it is. However there are problems with the debate and the conclusions as I see them.
One problem with the stuff that is written is that everyone has a different view of what assessment is. That means we can all agree on the general importance of it, when we are actually talking about different things.
A second problem is that each different definition of assessment is so narrow. It is as if nailing it down to the nth degree is going to make it clearer and more valuable because we are eliminating all the “bad” assessment and keeping the “good. It is also narrow in what we can assess – generally the academic and always the measurable.
The third problem is the artificiality of the process. What aspects of real life outside the context of a school are mirrored by our assessment processes? Actually, there is an interesting circle here which includes methods of staff appraisal. As some of our assessment methods for children become enlightened, our appraisal methods for teachers go in opposite direction. Perhaps more on this later!
Two other problems relate to the necessary reductionist process of assessment where a piece of work is reduced to a comment on it, a descriptor or just a number, and the distance of the assessment from the piece of work.
Another issue is the mono-directionality of most assessment structures. It is the Government, the School Board, The Principal or the Teacher that defines the assessment criteria and the student who has to go for them. Can we not have more that goes the other way?
Finally, and this is one of the bugbears that I will return to, is the apparent paramount need for assessment goals to define the work. Very often in “real life”, and I hate the phrase, we engage on something with only a vague idea of what success might be. A startup business cannot be predefined to achieve its goals only if it is as big as Facebook. A painting or a piece of music does not work towards a prewritten rubric. A repeated refrain on this site is that we can start things not knowing where they will take us or what success in them might look like. These things, whatever they may be, can be the most rewarding ones we engage in.