Subjective and Objective Student Assessment- A Thought Experiment on Student Learning

What assessment is fair to every student?

Imagine for a moment – you are a student, learning in a subject that you find to be difficult. Consider a time that you struggled to grasp the content; but, you ‘failed’ the mid-term exam. Can you remember a time in your life or the experience of your students that the ‘failure’ to learn at the mid-term actually motivated a positive growth in learning. What would be in the best interests of the student?

  • How would positive based assessment impact a student?
    • Why mark down incorrect understanding?
    • Why not reward correct knowledge?
    • Assessment at any time?
  • What would be the impact of students choosing their mode of assessment?
    • Unless the mode of assessment (a writing task in an English class for example) is germane to the assessment, why should the mode matter?
    • Can students show their understanding in multiple ways?
  • Could a student be assessed fairly at any time?
    • What if the student completes the learning task late? Does that change the amount they have learned?

What would be in the best interests of the teacher? The teacher has a set time-frame to assess every student – a semester, a week, a day perhaps. What would be fair to all of the students? If the teacher allows for maximum flexibility in assessment, are they setting the path to every student achieving their very best? What if the student does not display mastery at the same level as another student simply because the modality of the assessment does not allow for some expression of knowledge?

Suppose a science class is finishing a unit on the water cycle. One student might choose to be assessed traditionally by completing a paper based test. A second student may opt for more flexibility in how the information is presented and create a presentation with graphics and written paragraphs that explain the content. A third, less talented writer with test anxiety, may opt to create a dance that demonstrates the water cycle. All three students may have the same understanding. The mode of assessment will reveal different sets of knowledge.

The first student will show a prompted understanding of the knowledge deemed important by the teacher.

The second student – assuming they are a good writer – will be able to clearly articulate what they understand to be important in regards to the water cycle.

The third may be a highly accomplished dancer – and compose a dance that could be interpreted with all the same content as either of the first two students, but it is dependent on the teacher’s ability to understand the dance.

It seems there is a line between subjective assessment and objective assessment. Clear criteria, the correct and incorrect answers are set in one corner. As is the case with student one, accolades are given for reproducing the answer exactly as instructed. It is clear which student has the information and which does not. Some may argue that test anxiety gets in the way – a re-test on paper or even orally may be the remedy.

This is set against the modality of the student that creates their own mode of assessment and tells the teacher what they know. The second student clearly has done this.

The third student may need to interpret their work for the teacher, which is ultimately an oral report (a hybrid of student one and two); perhaps the second two students can even assesses their own work for their own grade. At what point is the assessment fair? At what point does the assessment support the learning of the student?

In life outside of school – which all teachers must consider in the instruction of students – the later, student created assessment, seems to be more applicable to growth. The answer to a real world problem rarely has a clear single solution. With the drive toward soft-skills such as flexibility and creativity this mode seems to be the most relevant. It also allows students to test how they want to be perceived in the world and how their ideas my be received. However, for the sake of teacher-ease and transparent fairness to the students, a clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answer is clearly the way to go.

 

 

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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