Assessment should measure learning, not be the reason for it.


Today i was talking to one of my past students who was quite shocked to have met a student who did biology last year, but wasn’t missing it! (I know!). I’m happy to say this WASN’T one of my students!!. Anyway, this student, whoever it was (let’s call him Fred), had expressed to my ex-student that now the exam was over, there was no point still being interested in biology, or listening to podcasts, because the purpose of all those things was [utility] to get you a good score on the exam and now that it was over, why would you bother? I think that is an attitude that is all too common in schools and to be frank, it makes me sad.  What “Fred” was saying was that the whole point of learning was to be assessed! That the reason for studying was to get a score. This is the kind of attitude that makes people say “is this going to be on the test?” (which is tantamount to saying “I don’t want to understand anything if it isn’t on the test”). Don’t you think that is sad? I see this attitude around me a lot. The other day in the staff room, some teachers were saying that there is no point running classes after the reports are written because you are just filling in time. To me that’s the same, sad attitude that “Fred” expressed… that we don’t learn because learning is a joyful experience, but because we want a good report.


I think what it all comes down to is why are you learning? For you, is it all about utility or significance? What is it that motivates you? Is it the need for the system to tell you that you got a grade? (utility / external reward) or the joy that comes from understanding? (significance / internal reward) Do you want to know what i have seen over my career in respect to this? Well I’ll tell you, anyway! I would say, with very few exceptions, that students like Fred, who are only doing it for the marks, don’t tend to get the marks they want anyway!!! The irony is quite stunning! When i look at the students over the past 5 or 6 years who have got really good scores, they tend to be students who did the study for the love of it. The scores came to them because they were focussed on learning, not on grades. They are the type of students who would contribute to the discussion board, listen to the podcast (even when the exam is over), help other students to understand… because they are doing it for the love of learning and as a result they learn in a different, deeper, more subtle, way.


More important even than this; these truly great (in my eyes) students understand that success is a journey, not a destination. I do feel sorry for Fred… because i suspect he has missed out on the most important success of all… the joy of learning and being part of a community of learners. Helen Keller didn’t’ have Fred’s attitude! nor did Darwin, or Steve Irwin, or any other inspiring person I can think of.


Scores ARE important, exams ARE important… but learning is MORE important. And learning needn’t stop when the assessment is complete.


1 thought on “Assessment should measure learning, not be the reason for it.

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