Assessment to me is a very effective self reflection tool. But the key is it is more for reflection. The idea behind assessment is to help perform a self-check on how much you have been able to grasp and refine your understanding incrementally. I am not against assessment per se. In my opinion, it is a very effective tool for a reality check and a feedback mechanism. However, I am also against the idea of attaching excessive importance to grades.
Let me try to present my perspective on how we have created the grading monster. Our ability to of “measuring” can be a double edged sword. Although we are cognizant of the imperfections of this approach, we embrace the idea of reducing an entire experience to a number. By creating such a metric, we incentive ourselves to take the easiest route possible for evaluations. What we tend to miss in this process is to get a sense of the overall understanding of a student’s thought process and ability to learn.
But then do we really have an alternative? To me, the key lies in reducing the importance to grades. This comes with the side effect of not having a standard yardstick to measure the quality of one student against another. But to me, the benefits outweigh the shortcomings. Let me elaborate further.
Some people take longer to grasp a new concept in a particular area. It does not mean that they cannot learn or are inferior. Slow learning has it’s advantages of retention over longer periods. (This is more from personal experience as in classes that I have failed, I remember the course contents vividly :D) So instead of having a “judgement day”, what we could have is students keep assessing themselves over the course multiple times till they have acquired a fair degree of proficiency in what they are expected to learn. That should be able to fix one part of the problem which is trying to learn something. Should this score be published ? I think if some potential employer or school wants to review it they can, but here the control has shifted more to the student because he has had multiple attempts to improve his learning.
Secondly, for each course students could create a course portfolio which is an outward expression of what they learned. What they would like to display as a part of this portfolio should be left completely to the individual. This challenges the student to think laterally while bringing out his/her creative abilities.
Will this work ? Unless we try we will never know !