An assessment is to judge or decide the quantity, value, or importance of something (Cambridge Dictionaries online 2010). When applied to teaching, assessment is a process of finding out if learning has taken place in order for learners to progress and/or gain a qualification (Gravells 2008). The purpose of this assignment is to explore the use of formal and informal assessment strategies in teaching practice. A range of theories linked to formal and informal assessment will be discussed with reflection on my practice. My current practice involves carrying out both formal and informal assessment of student nurses during placement in the Emergency Department.
The significance of validity and reliability within these assessment strategies will be covered. Also to be discussed is the importance of equality and diversity issues within assessment and how these issues can be addressed.There are many ways in which informal assessment can be used in learning and evaluation. These include questioning, observation, group work, demonstration, and tutorials (Valencia 1997). In my practice the principal method is that of questioning of student nurses knowledge and understanding and direct observation of their skills. Informal assessments can be tailored to meet individual needs. Peer- and self-assessment are also valued informal assessment strategies and many teachers wish that the students were more involved in carrying out assessment (Race and Pickford 2007). Gravells (2008) suggests that peer-assessment is useful in group work activities and presentations as often learners respond more to their peers??™ feedback than that of the teachers.
Self-assessment and reflection can allow students to identify their learning needs, however this can only be possible if the student is clear about the targets they are meant to achieve (Black and William 1998). Assessing yourself against your own previous performance is known as ???Ipsative assessment??™ (Atherton 2009). Norcini (2003) favours work-based assessment as it gives a better reflection of a person??™s everyday performance than assessments done under test conditions. Informal assessment is defined by Atherton (2009) as a continuous process of assessment and evaluation. This type of assessment is often referred to as formative assessment. Black and William (1998) suggest assessment is formative when the feedback from learning activities is used to adapt the teaching to meet the needs of the learner. Therefore feedback plays an important part in formative assessment as it allows the student and the tutor to evaluate learning and identify areas requiring work or improvement. Race and Pickford (2007) state that by giving learners early feedback on their progress they are more likely to stay motivated to the course or module.
In practice however I find it difficult to give students feedback on their progress at an early stage in their placement although it is possible to give feedback on individual tasks. This is because a student??™s learning needs are not clear until a few weeks into the placement when you have got to know them and observed their clinical practice. Biggs designed a model to classify the complexity of learning outcomes which allows tutors to assess the quality of the learner??™s work. This is known as Solo Taxonomy and begins with students picking up some aspects of knowledge and eventually developing this knowledge to apply and analyse it (Biggs 2008)A formal assessment is usually a written document such as a test, quiz, or paper and is given a score or grade based on student performance (Valencia 1997). A summative assessment is a formal assessment which typically takes place at the end of a course or module.
Summative assessment usually leads to a pass or fail situation (Gravells 2008). Formative assessments can be used to build up to a formal assessment when learning outcomes have to be met. Race and Pickford (2007) suggest that students are more likely to work hard if they know that what they are being taught is directly related to their formal assessment. I would have to disagree with this in practice as the majority of my students are more enthusiastic about the extra skills they learn specific to the placement and not the skills they need to learn for their formal assessments. Formal assessments can be further broken down into norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests. Norm-referencing is graded assessment which compares learners??™ achievement against one another (Atherton 2009). Armitage et al (1999) present an argument against the use of norm-referencing; it shows nothing of value about an individual??™s learning achievement therefore it is favoured by criterion-referencing. Criterion-referencing is assessment against a fixed standard or criterion rather than against other individuals (Atherton 2009).
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2010) agree that being compared to those who are more successful is likely to cause learners to become de-motivated. Competency-based assessment is widely used in healthcare and is not graded. Armitage et al (1999) point out that this can also cause motivational problems as student will not strive to do better if they know they can gain a competence by doing the bare minimum.A truly valid assessment is one which measures whether the learning aims and objectives have been met (Armitage 1999). That said, Satterly (1990 cited in Armitage et al 1999) stated that an assessment cannot be named as valid or invalid, only the interpretation of that assessment can be valid or invalid. Gravells 2008 identifies that when planning an assessment you should ensure that it is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART). In nursing practice we are continually assessing and being assessed.
The assessment is not always specific to any one task and often tends to evaluate overall performance. Also this is frequently difficult to measure because as previously mentioned you are either competent to do a skill or not. Race and Pickford (2007) state that we are not assessing ???SMART-ly??™ if we are only measuring what the students have learnt by means of examinations alone. This means there needs to be improvement of formative assessment as outlined by Black and William (1998) who suggest that collecting marks for record tables has taken greater priority than analysis of the learners??™ work to identify needs. Gravells (2008) suggests that if you used the same assessment on other groups or learners you should get similar results, this shows if the assessment is reliable. Teachers need to be accountable with their assessments as it needs to be seen by everyone that they are using fair and consistent methods (Race and Pickford 2007).When designing assessment methods it is important to think about equality.
Black and William (1998) point out that teachers need to know how their pupils are progressing and of any difficulties they have with learning. Without this knowledge teachers will not address learning needs which can in any case be unpredictable and vary hugely between each pupil. To ensure one is supporting learners who may have additional needs you might have to change the assessment methods or the environment without changing the assessment criteria (Gravells 2008). Armitage et al (1999) state that differentiation in assessment often raises issues of equal opportunity.
The Open University (2006) has designed a check list to help teachers design assessment strategies that are inclusive. This check list includes having alternative tasks and different methods that students use to carry out these assessment tasks. Some students may need to be given more time to complete the tasks.
Assessment feedback needs to be both appropriate and fully accessible to all students. You should be aware of your institution??™s policy on the adjustment of assessments and the requirements outlined by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). The DDA 2005 introduced the disability equality duty to ensure education providers make adjustments to practices if the disabled person is rendered at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled.This leaves the question as to which is the best form of assessment, formal or informal. Authors have favoured the use of informal assessments for the overall learning. The QCA has also designed a framework of Assessing Pupils??™ Progress (APP, 2008). This enables teachers to assess students through various classroom-based activities to reduce the amount of formal testing required.
Although formative assessment is well favoured, summative assessment still plays a large part in education today. Without formal assessment qualifications would not be possible. It would be best practice however, to use a variety of assessment methods in assessing students. Whichever assessment type one chooses, it must be valid and capable of verifying that the learning outcomes have been met. Assessments must be well planned and inclusive of all students. Feedback is an important part of assessment practice. In my practice I will continue to use varied methods formal and informal assessment but I will plan these methods more carefully.
Writing this assignment has taught me to be more aware of my students learning needs and abilities and be prepared to make adjustments to their assessments in practice.Reference ListArmitage, A. et al. (1999) Teaching and Training in Post-Compulsory Education.
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