Monday, April 27, 2009

Learning Assessment Through Life

I attended an excellent workshop today on the topic of assessment and learning. The workshop was delivered by Professor Sally Brown of Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. The attendees consisted of a mix of our own faculty at National College of Ireland and teachers from some of the other colleges around the country as part of the Learning Innovation Network.
Sally started by inviting participants to reflect on how learning assessments have impacted on all our lives.
This exercise got me thinking about the idea of a lifespan perspective on assessment - key moments of assessment and how significant their influence can be.
When I was in school we were streamed in classes A B C etc.. I remember being asked a question when I was being assessed for 2nd class primary school (I would have been about 8 at the time). After infant school in a convent I went to a Christian Brothers School and on the first day the brother gave us a one-to-one interview that lasted about two minutes (or at least that is my recollection of it). I was asked "what is eight plus five?". I actually knew the answer but I could not respond because I was so terrified of the situation.
I ended up in a B stream and I remain convinced that the decision was made on the basis of the brief interview and my inability to respond. Through my years at school a pattern was repeated - I would move from the top of a B stream to the bottom of an A stream as a consequence of some test or other.
Maybe this was no bad thing for me and I have always been comfortable with my recollections of school (see my earlier piece on learning identity).
I also recall how assessment has always been connected with qualifications. Sally Brown is a big advocate of
for learning rather than assessment of learning".
When I joined NCI - my mother was quick to point out that my father had studied in the old College of Industrial Relations when it was based in Ranelagh.
My father, Har was an active trade unionist and he had a strong sense of social justice which extended from his support for co-workers to participating on a picket of Dunnes Stores in solidarity with a shop worker dismissed for refusing to handle South African produce during the apartheid era.
My mother rooted out Har's old certificate in Trade Union Studies and gave it to me. In all likelihood there was some form of assessment involved in this course I don't know but I have the evidence of certification.
Yes, all our lives are shaped and influenced by educational assessment and certification.
As educators, we have a big responsibility to arrange assessment that is conducive to learning and is effective and fair. You'll never know for how long or how extensive its influence may be.
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