Marta Genis, Ph.D.
Trinity College London Spain
Assessment, in Education, refers to the knowledge needed for gathering data about the students’ learning and using that information to improve teaching and, ultimately, the outcomes of students. According to Stiggins (2008, p.2)1, assessment practices that were before used “to separate the successful from the unsuccessful student now must become practices that support the learning of all students”. Therefore, assessment is now regarded as the other face of the coin of instruction, a tool that helps teachers plan and readjust teaching and learning programmes so that both teachers and students can improve the process of education, thus satisfying the primary purpose of assessment: to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching, producing a permanent flow of information in order to fine-tune the learning goals for the students’ success. Harris & Mc Cann (1994, p.2)2 consider assessment as “one of the most valuable sources of information about what is happening in a learning environment.”
However, assessing is a complex task, as many aspects of education need to be taken into account, such as the people involved (students, teachers, other personnel), the tools and methods used, the validity of the results obtained and the consistency in applying them for improved planning and practice. Despite its importance, assessment training has not been properly integrated in the instruction of future teachers.
When the European Higher Education Area became a reality in 2010 with the Budapest-Vienna Declaration, a series of changes regarding teacher and learners, lesson planning, teaching methodologies and assessment had to be revised. The new perspective favoured a type of assessment centred not on the outcomes but on the process, i.e., the objectives proposed, the context, the resources and methodologies, and the education system itself, as universities have to guarantee that the students have achieved the learning outcomes set up in each discipline area, which include not only knowledge but abilities and attitudes. Student-centred learning, teaching and assessing became a priority, as the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) states: “student-centred learning and teaching plays an important role in stimulating students’ motivation, self-reflection and engagement in the learning process. This means careful consideration of the design and delivery of study programmes and the assessment of outcomes.”3 Consequently, teacher training was dissected and universities exhorted to verify that students enrolled in teacher education programs are qualified not only to teach but also to assess. Most teacher education programs include teaching techniques in which the students learn how to develop and use tools such as case-study, problem-solving and task-based activities, lesson planning, and class management in order to prepare themselves for the challenges they will have to face in their teaching practice. However, assessment is frequently overlooked, and usually does not provide valid data about competence, nor help teachers improve their work. Consequently, it is crucial to take steps towards the improvement of the level of assessment literacy of students whose aim is to be teachers. Assessment literacy implies knowing about the essential principles of assessment practice, i.e. the terminology, design and selection of the appropriate assessment techniques and tools, and the knowledge of standards against which to calibrate their quality. Stiggins (2008, p. 20)4 states that “Assessment literates know the difference between sound and unsound assessment." Assessment literate teachers should acquire the skills needed for sound assessment: (a) Testing literacy, which involves understanding how to design a test, how to administrate it and how to use it in their teaching context; (b) Measurement Literacy, i.e. to know the measurement principles, particularly those related to validity and reliability; and (c) Data Literacy, which implies having the basic skills needed to organize, analyze and interpret data so that it can be used appropriately.
There are different types of assessment practices, as Berry & Adamson (2011, p. 3)5 explain “Assessment can take many forms and serve many purposes. Assessment can, for example, be formative and summative, formal and informal, external and internal, authentic and inauthentic, oral and written, criterion-reference, norm-referenced and ipsative 6 , focusing on differentiation and discrimination, and carried out by experts, peers and oneself; it can be used for grading, selecting, diagnosing, determining mastery, guiding and predicting.” However, despite the fact of being crucial to have assessment literate teachers, teacher training programs usually do not include assessment among their subjects, although the CAM (Autonomous Community of Madrid) has assessment (evaluation, learning standards and development of the student’s key competences and skills) among the teacher training priority lines for the period 2016-2017. In spite of this, it is very disappointing that in Madrid Community, a city with the highest concentration of students in Spain, most universities with Pre-Primary and Primary Education degrees do not have any Assessment subject in the four years of study, although Assessment subjects are included in the degree in Pedagogy (offered only in two universities), Furthermore, if we consider the Master of Secondary Education, present in almost all the universities and compulsory to become a teacher, only a few universities include one subject on Assessment, and other Master courses related to Education and New Technologies, Bilingualism or Digital Society do not offer Assessment subjects at all.
This situation raises awareness of the need for more preparation in assessment. If teachers do not have a high level of assessment literacy, they are unable to analyse and use assessment information to improve the students’ outcomes. Thus, teacher education programmes need to include specific subjects in order to help future teachers acquire knowledge of assessment literacy and practice.
1. Stiggins, R. (2008) Assessment Manifesto. A Call for the development of Balanced Assessment Systems. Portland, Or: ETS Assessment Institute. Retrieved from:
2. Harris, M. & Mc Cann, P. (1994). Assessment. Oxford: Heinemann.
3. The Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG), point 1.3, p. 12.
4. Stiggins, R. (2008). Op. cit.
5. Berry, R., & Adamson, B. (2011). Assessment reform past, present and future. In R. Berry & B. Adamson (Eds.), Assessment reform in education: Policy and practice (pp. 3-14). New York: Springer.
6. Ipsative assessment measures progress by comparing a test-taker’s results against his/her previous results.