The Dilemma of Assessment

It seems many scholars nowadays have problems with the assessment of education. Their biggest concern is that present evaluating system cannot effectively measure students’ real knowledge or abilities, and thus cannot effectively encourage them to learn.

Riley questioned the “Outcomes-Based Education” and an “evidence-based” philosophy in engineering education and criticized ABET’s (Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology) recent revision of its criteria. She criticized the elimination of some broader consideration of a student’s ability such as political consciousness and professional ethics. She argued that such criteria are indeed useful and their elimination is ascribed to a rationale that these outcomes are not assessable.

Kohn, on the other hand, criticizes present grading system. According to him, grading at least has three shortcomings: it reduces students’ interests to learn, it makes students lazier by encouraging the easiest tasks, and it harms students’ quality of thinking.

Lombardi also indicates that present assessing system could make students passive information receivers who only learn the stuff that would be tested.

While all these researchers have their insights, I would add that the situations they described are largely a Western concern. In the developed world, educational resources are relatively abundant and it is not a dream for the majority to receive decent education, even college education. This is simply a luxury that most developing countries are still dreaming of. The scarcity of education resources causes a series problems, one of which is the corruption of education. In many developing countries students would know that going to a good school often means bribery in one form or another. In the end, the kids from better off families tend to enjoy better education based upon unfair competition. In this situation, objectified and standardized examinations are whole-heartedly embraced by the vast majority, because only such exams can guarantee relatively fair competition. The more “assessable” the exams are, the fairer. These education assessments very much welcome the “Outcomes-Based Education”.

Of course, the problem the third world is facing is not the reason to downplay the problem in the first world. It just provides a different view to look at the assessment of education.

2 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Assessment”

  1. Your article raised a very good point that I already suffered from in my country Egypt. Having a good education there is like a nightmare. You need to spend a lot, in order to make your kids join a reputable private school. In such a system, as you said, standardized tests are the only acceptable way from the society for assessment. No one will trust descriptive assessment or locally designed exams. This kind of education puts a lot of pressure on kids and of course kills any fun in the learning.
    However, I think the proposed assessment methodologies are not a luxury for the developed countries. The education system is well settled and been fair enough to accept new assessment methodologies. And who knows, developing countries could make use of them in the future but I think they need first a complete revolution in their educational systems.

  2. Interesting take on the issue! Your post reminded me of peer-reviewed articles and “publish or perish.” I wrote a paper about “publish or perish” last semester, and I found a lot of articles about how the emphasis on publishing has many negative consequences, but one positive side that I hadn’t really considered is similar to what you described–previously, academia was kind of a “good old boys” culture that depended more on who you know rather than what you know. Thus, many people were happy about the switch to using publications as a metric because it was objective. Thanks for the post!

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