|New Perspectives on Assessment - Studies No. 4 (UNESCO, 1995, 50 p.)|
Many assessment practices remain as valid today as they have ever been, and there is no shortage of information available on assessment: there are numerous general books written on assessment, and many manuals and materials which apply these ideas to situations in vocational education.
However, new challenges have arisen in this field which traditional approaches to assessment are failing to address. There is also an increasing amount of research and development being carried out in the area. The purpose of this book is not to repeat what is readily available elsewhere, nor to overturn much of what has been written. It is to bring new ideas on assessment to the attention of practitioners, administrators, and to those with responsibilities for setting policy. The issues highlighted in this book are:
· the connections between assessment and learning
· the need to focus on competence
· recognising competence attained outside formal learning situations
· assessing across many institutions.
The importance of assessment issues in vocational education is often not appreciated. There is, for example, probably more bad practice and ignorance of significant issues in the area of assessment than in any other aspect of vocational education. This would not be so bad but for the fact that the effects of bad practice are far more potent here than for any aspect of teaching. Students can, with difficulty, escape from the effects of poor teaching; they cannot (if they want to succeed in a course) escape the effects of poor assessment. Assessment acts as a mechanism to control students that has more effect on students than most teachers or administrators are prepared to acknowledge.
The level of concern and debate about assessment is summarised by Eckstein and Noah (1993):
If examinations provoke debate and conflict, it is because they are not merely technical devices to evaluate students. The policies and practices they embody carry ideological and political freight. Educational, ideological and political issues become intertwined, especially over questions of control, who shall control the examinations, and what shall the examinations control?
Neither of these questions finds permanent solutions in any country. Instead, current examination policies and arrangements are best regarded as the outcome of a series of compromises among competing values, interests, and points of view, or... as a set of trade-offs between competing values.
That is to say, assessment is important in its own right - it cannot be separated from the social context, and it also aids or inhibits the attempts of vocational educators to improve teaching and learning. It is for these reasons that a book focussing on current assessment issues is needed.