Thinking about assessment

In loosely coupled assessment Mike Caulfield bemoans the latest round of LMS vendors pitching the control of learner experiences.(Thanks for the link Harold!) Meanwhile, I've been reflecting on the differences between thinking and what occurs to our minds when we're not thinking. It's becoming clear to me how thinking limits us and often makes us part of the problem. Here I'm defining thinking as dualistic and as the opposite of reflective practice. I'll call what occurs to our minds otherwise: "inspirations".

Thinking assumes people are too incompetent to know how to evaluate themselves.  Learners are presumed to be in need someone smart enough to tell them how they did. Inspirations see people as smart enough to learn from their experiences by critiquing their own outcomes.

Thinking says learners need to be tested to measure how much they have retained of the material covered. Inspirations say learners need to test what they have been given to see if it works for them and makes the difference that has been claimed.

Thinking says learners don't have a framework to assess their partial comprehension because they are still ignorant. Inspirations say learners will upgrade their framework in the process of evaluating their own understanding.

Thinking says learners are not affected by the context of the evaluation, only by the data delivered. Inspirations say the context of evaluation has more impact than the content of the feedback.

Thinking claims the context of assessment is the objective evaluation of evidence using normative standards fairly and consistently. Inspiration says the context is created by the subjective premise of the assessment:

  • how this is wrong (half empty) or how this is right (half full),
  • how this fails to comply with imposed expectations or how this succeeds at making progress
  • how this is a deficient error to be corrected or how this is useful mistake for identifying a misunderstanding
  • how this is deserving of penalties for lack of achievement or how this is worthy of recognition for development of understanding
  • how this is non-compliant with standards or how this is expressing creativity

Thinking about assessment can function as a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we see the learners needing evaluation, they will think they need evaluation. They will not think otherwise or may not have it occur to them that imposed evaluation is misguided.

Inspirations about assessment also functions to create evidence of it's premises. If we see learners capable of self-assessment and improving their self-critique with practice, they will become self reliant and responsible. They will discern the toxic effects of imposed assessment and dismiss it out of their self-respect and success with self evaluations.

Technorati tags: , ,


  1. I have this argument with my co-workers regularly. In corporate training - I feel the only "assessment" that really matters is - can they do their job better.

    Why waste their time (and mine) with tests that mean nothing when the real test is out in the field?

  2. Thanks Wendy. It's great to imagine the field as the test and wonder why a pre-test of the applied use of the training would be at all useful. I suspect your coworkers are not thinking this through. Rather they are afraid of fatal mistakes in the health care environment and going onto auto-pilot about testing out of fear. The same pattern probably occurs wherever mistakes can be fatal: equipment failures, construction missteps, pilot errors, etc. In those situations, not all mistakes are fatal so it would help to be discriminating and only do a "panic test" where necessary.