The Role of Assessment in the Middle Year Program

Introduction

The targets for formal education have, in the recent past, been shifted from transforming individuals into predetermined workers for an industrialized economy to activities aimed at satisfying the individual and unique needs of each student attending class. This change, however, is yet to receive widespread acceptance; especially from the public education sector which insists on maintaining the traditional methods of teaching, learning and assessment.

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The main shift in the paradigm has been the incorporation of the student as a legitimate stakeholder in the process of learning and aligning all the activities undertaken during this process to the specific needs of the student. As such, the student is at the center of the process; thus, student-centeredness. This focus has to be (and has been) applied in all the aspects of learning; and for the purposes of this paper, in assessment. This has been necessitated by the fact that assessment is meant to determine the efficiency of a certain educational program in ensuring learning objectives are attained; and if student-centeredness has been factored in during the setting of the objectives, then it is inevitable to consider the issue during the assessment. In MYP assessment is internal where the tasks, tools, and strategies are all developed by teachers in these schools.

Purpose of assessment in supporting MYP learning outcomes

Assessment plays a vital role in supporting as well as encouraging learning by students through feedback provision. It informs, develops, and advances teaching; a thing that brings about positive attitudes on the students towards learning. Through their real-world inquiries, students are able to fully comprehend the subject under discussion thus assessment promotes mastery of content. In addition, it gives the program an international look where it (assessment) takes care of the diverse linguistic and cultural contexts. In designing special assessment criteria for the MYP, one must focus on what such an assessment must achieve, or what the students are expected to learn. The learner’s profile for the students aimed at forming the basis of the MYP can tell a lot of what is expected of the students and this can help in determining the assessment criteria for such students. Although the interest of IB is on an international perspective with many differences among participating schools and students, the assessment applied is internal as it is the teachers working within these schools that design, develop and apply the assessment tasks. Although schools are free to have students participate in the assessments of the external nature, MYP does not provide such. This may ensure that the teachers are allowed to have a professional judgment on the students, while not placing a load on them and the students to meet particular targets which could favor certain areas than others. Assessment maintains the MYP holistic nature by incorporating all-important values necessary in students’ development. Therefore, MYP assessment is aimed at encouraging and supporting learners.

Student-centered learning

This is an approach to education whereby the needs of the student are placed at the center of the learning process; this is contrary to the traditional approach whereby the needs of other parties were fulfilled first before those of the student. Such parties include teachers, administrators; and even in some instances the society and the government. Such parties may have vested interests in the outcome of the learning process and have traditionally set the desired goals so as to fulfill these interests; such would include training of a workforce or achieving high grades in certain predetermined disciplines in the curriculum. In this scenario, the student usually takes a passive and receptive role in the process while the teacher is the central source of knowledge and the sole authority of assessment. In this case, the student may end up taking disciplines and/or courses which s/he feels will not help in attaining his/her personal goals and ambitions.

On the contrary, student-centered learning puts the student first; whereby the needs, goals, and ambitions are the primary basis for all the activities undertaken during the learning process; and takes advantage of the student’s individual and unique abilities and talents; and makes the teacher a facilitator of the process rather than the primary driving force (Pedersen & Williams, 2004).

Student centeredness and assessment strategies

A major factor that starkly differentiates teacher and student-centered learning is in the approach taken in assessment. In the latter, the student is a stakeholder in the process; and takes an active role in demonstrating how the objectives of learning have been achieved. A major challenge in transforming the education system to put the student in the center has been convincing the teachers to yield some of their assessment power to the student (Pedersen & Liu, 2003).

Traditionally, the teachers use grades not only to measure the amount of progress that each student is making (as depicted by class ranking) but also as a tool for motivating and rewarding students for better academic commitment and improvement (Pedersen & Liu, 2003). This method of assessment, however, gives disproportionate power to the teacher to define what success is; and by relatively narrow parameters. Additionally, assuming the process of teaching and learning was teacher-centered; it would then be safe to assume that some of the students may not have personally opted to pursue some of the tested disciplines.

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Student-centered assessment is based on the argument that the perception of the student reading his/her own success in academics is equally or more vital in determining whether such a student will meet the learning objectives or not, than that of the teacher. Indeed, if the student has the sentiment that s/he is a relevant stakeholder in the process of learning, then it would be much easier and effective to assess such a student in a manner that depicts true success (Pedersen & Williams, 2004).

Areas of assessment

The dawn of the 21st century came with a need to create students that have other qualities above the knowledge of basic disciplines traditionally offered in schools. As such, there also has been a need to have methods of assessing the acquisition of these qualities. First and foremost, the student needs to be assessed for knowledge outcomes; this would determine whether the student has mastered academic material on the course either through memorization or access to references. The reasoning outcomes of the student are also assessed; this involves the application of the knowledge gained to solve specific problems. Skill-outcomes are also important, and the assessment involves measurement of the things the student is able to do as a result of gaining knowledge during the learning process. Finally, affective outcomes are also assessed; this involves finding out the feelings or emotions of the students after going through the course (Stiggins, 1997).

Formative and Summative assessment

These are two methods of assessment; and are differentiated mainly by their aim/goal [Scriven, 1967].

Formative assessment

This approach is a feedback system from the student where s/he voice (their) academic needs and in turn the student is informed of (their) shortcomings; subsequently; effective solutions are formulated by the management through the corroboration of the teacher and students, aimed at remedying this situation; this assessment takes place before grading [Pellegrino, et al, 2001]. This requires active inputs from the student from the very beginning of the learning session; and s/he is informed of the expected outcomes from the very onset (Boud, 1995).

Summative assessment

Summative assessment is an ‘end-of-the-period’ judgment of the candidate’s academic achievements; basically in form of grades. There is no input from the students, and the results are used mainly for ranking and certification. The disadvantage of this type of assessment is that it is not sensitive to the needs of the learners and students may merely have to achieve what is meant for them. However, if correctly applied, it can help in saving time because it eliminates the processes involved in incorporating learners for the assessment criterion.

Both of these systems of assessment are necessary in any academic system; however, in order to be truly student-centered, a system has to strive to include as much formative assessment as possible. As such, the student’s needs will be profiled individually and relevant steps are taken to address them during the period of learning. Additionally, a student whose shortcomings are addressed during rather than after the period of learning will have obvious confidence and motivation to persist and excel in the system.

It is therefore incumbent on all teachers and school administrators to know exactly what they aim to achieve during the process of student assessment. Indeed, it would not be of any value to retain a process that only serves to impede the learning of the student; which is the primary and most important reason for entering into the system in the first place.

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Assessment in the MYP (criterion-related)

All students must have access to the pre-determined criteria of assessment at the MYP. For each subject group, a set of objectives that students must achieve are identified, and the level of achievement of students for these objectives is measured in terms of levels of achievement. The objectives are directly related to the assessment criteria, and the levels of achievement that measure student attainment of the objectives are described in the assessment criteria.

Curriculum alignment

Currently, there is a SACSA as a South Australian Framework. Educators have faced a challenge to come up with a curriculum which is in line with the rapidly expanding knowledge base in the society. This expansion has been accompanied by growth of knowledge-mediated industries and services, development of new technologies and forms of communication, and the acceleration in the rate of development and transfer of knowledge. Traditional authority structures of passing and managing knowledge have been challenged by the democratization of knowledge because it can be acquired from many sources unlike in the traditional set up. People are being exposed more to diverse cultures and individual identities, which is influencing family and social life. This call for need for change in the system concerned with the management and acquisition of knowledge. South Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability (SACSA) Framework has been developed in the consideration of experienced educators and learners, research findings, informed predictions about the future and also the analysis of the demands of contemporary society. This Framework reconciles the divide between different approaches applied by the educators to satisfy diverse learners’ needs, and the need to commit to a single curriculum. Some of the concept utilized to integrate the Framework and provide its holism and coherence includes monitoring students’ performance against the standards established in the Framework, a focus on equity cross-curriculum perspectives and a conception of learning drawn from constructivist learning theories (Southern Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability Framework, n.d.). The Framework requires educators to make judgments on student performance through their interpretation of assessment information. The standards which exist are; Curriculum Standards (Reception-Year 10) or Year 12 Standards, and a set of Developmental Learning Outcomes for Birth-Age 3; Age 3-Age 5. Different teaching approaches can be used to achieve the aforementioned standards and at different years of development.

The inquiry cycle (Unit planners; Areas of interaction; modifying assessment)

Areas of interaction depict the contexts where the content of the curriculum interacts with the real world. They help the learner to understand the connection of learning and the real world and are themes embedded in every subject. They include; human ingenuity which seeks to help students examine and reflect on the ingenious ways of human thinking, creating and initiating change; environments, which make the students develop positive attitudes toward the environment in addition to making them become aware that they are interdependent with the world; health and social education, which empowers the learners to explore the physical, personal and societal issues and to develop respect for the body and mind; community and service, to make them aware of their responsibilities in the society and; approaches to learning to have them increase responsibility for their learning. The assessment needs can be modified depending on the current needs or according to the research finding. The assessment is balanced between formative and summative assessment. In addition, the model allows for student self-assessment, group and/or peer evaluation, and teacher-led assessment. Teachers have a planning tool or the MYP unit planner to help them design the MYP units of work. Teachers are able to “integrate their significant subject concepts together with the contexts for learning and assessment” (International Baccalaureate, n.d.).

Standards and Practices

The SACSA contains standards for determining the assessment. These are mentioned in the preceding section. Learners may require demonstrating performance via a set of assessment tasks during the learning processes. The Framework has a description of examples alongside each outcome. Students are assessed over multidimensional tasks and expected to show connectedness (Southern Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability Framework, n.d.). At Underdale High School, where I’m a mathematics and science teacher, the Middle Years Program involves a student-centered approach of inquiry and communication; where the student effectively ‘learns how to learn’; such has aided in the ability to develop candidates that are able to cope with an environment that requires an elevated level of innate intelligence [Bentley, 1998]. In the drive to have a student-centered outlook in all the aspects of learning in the institution, the school has developed a system to assess all the aspects of learning alongside the traditional assessment of knowledge outcomes; for example, students are evaluated on participation and contributions to various activities throughout the year such as representing the school in sports tournaments, debate sittings, tutoring and mentoring of junior scholars. Additionally, the students participate in activities to raise funds for charities. The candidate is evaluated for the amount of contribution in the activities and the respective merit recorded in their transitional portfolio. A candidate has to complete Community and Service in order to gain their Bright Futures and International Baccalaureate Middle Years certificates.

Personal project in year 5 of the MYP

The student has to complete a personal project before graduating. This involves the completion of a collection of related work produced over a period of time starting towards the completion of the five-year course rather than a single assignment. The candidate has the discretion of selecting a topic that they are comfortable with and enthusiastic about, and the project is not restricted to any single discipline; the projects usually range from original artworks, engineering inventions, creation of a website, new scientific experiments et cetera.

The assessment of the student at the completion of such a project would undoubtedly portray an accurate picture of the achievement of the learning objectives of the course. For starters, by making a personal choice on what to pursue, the student is a legitimate stakeholder in the learning process; and is not relegated to the traditionally passive role. Secondly, the grasp of the student on the knowledge objectives will be clearly visible on the effectiveness and accuracy of their application in the completion of the project; thus assessing the achievement of reasoning outcomes concurrently. Finally, the dedication of the student to completing the project within the prescribed time and context will have to assess the affective outcomes (Pedersen & Williams, 2004; Stiggins, 1997).

The effectiveness of these activities is augmented greatly by the fact that they are not purely driven towards academic gains (despite the fact that assessment results in academic grading). As such, a student can gain academic credits for participating in activities whose effects cannot be measured in arbitrary parameters; such as community service. Such has enabled the school to produce well-rounded individuals; who are acutely aware that their relevance extends well beyond simple academic goals. This enables them to adapt quickly and effectively to the complex world after the completion of their course.

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Reference list

  1. Bentley, T. (1998). Learning beyond the classroom: Education for a changing world. London and New York: Routledge Falmer Demos.
  2. Boud, David; (1995). Assessment and learning: contradictory or complementary? P. Knight (Ed.). Assessment for Learning in Higher Education: London: Kogan Page, 35-48.
  3. International Baccalaureate. MYP: From principles into practice. Pedersen, S. & Liu, M. (2003). Teachers’ Beliefs about Issues in the implementation of a Student-Centered Learning Environment: Educational Technology, Research and Development, 51(2), pp. 57-74.
  4. Pedersen, S. & Williams, D. (2004). A Comparison of Assessment Practices and Their Effects on Learning and Motivation in a Student-Centered Learning Environment: Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(3), pp. 283-307.
  5. Pellegrino, James W. Naomi Chudowsky, and Robert Glaser, eds. (2001).
  6. Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2001), p. 14
  7. Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. In R. W. Tyler et al (Eds.)
  8. Perspectives of Curriculum Evaluation. American Educational Research Association Monograph: Chicago: Rand McNally
  9. Stiggins R. J. (1997). Student-centered Classroom Assessment: Second edition; Merrill Publishing; New York.
  10. Southern Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability Framework. General Introduction: Birth to Year 12.
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