Conversations about student wellbeing often lead to discussions about assessment and the reporting of student achievement. Often, concerns are raised about the necessity of certain types of assessment and the potential negative impact of results on student wellbeing.
Seldom do these discussions consider the positive impacts of good assessment on student motivation, and the sense of accomplishment that positive assessment practices can produce. As an organisation that has been researching learning achievement for over 90 years, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is regularly asked for advice on ways of making assessment a more meaningful and positive process that supports the wellbeing of students.
Suggestion One: Measure rather than judge students’ learning
A very common approach to assessment is to make a performance judgement based on normative or curriculum-based expectations. While this can be useful in understanding performance, it often has unintended consequences such as demotivating students who are left feeling that they are falling behind expectations. It can also drive students to base their learning self-confidence on narrow performance parameters, as opposed to also valuing their development in broader and more difficult to measure areas.
“Seldom do we consider the positive impacts of good assessment on student motivation.”
For students to remain engaged and motivated in their learning, it is important that they can recognise the progress they are making and be appropriately challenged along the way. However, this is of course practically difficult given that, in any classroom around the world, teachers can typically have ability ranges of four or more years between the lowest performing and highest performing students. It is therefore critical that assessments measure learning as opposed to providing value-laden judgements, in order reach students where they are in their learning journey and support them to make progress and become confident learners.
Suggestion Two: Help students to understand where they are in their learning
Having worked in education across a range of systems and contexts, I believe that the most powerful form of assessment is self-assessment. Students who are able to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses become lifelong learners. The first step in this process is guiding students to understand their accomplishments and what they are able to do in an area of learning.
“Students who are able to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses become lifelong learners.”
Just as in suggestion one, making norm-referenced judgements will not be useful for students in teaching them to become successful at self-assessment. Clearly communicating what skills and concepts they are being assessed on, why they are valuable and how they fit into a continuum of learning offers students an opportunity to understand their accomplishments.
Suggestion Three: Working with students to set realistic, but challenging learning goals
When students have an understanding of what they have accomplished in their learning, they have a more positive base from which to determine what knowledge, skills and abilities they are yet to attain. It is an opportunity to work with the student to identify the next steps in learning, setting learning goals that are challenging but achievable.
Learning progressions can be a very effective tool for helping students understand what their next steps in learning are. They also enable all students, no matter their ability level, to be appropriately challenged and to have the opportunity to demonstrate positive progress without the burden of unrealistic expectations. As students become more familiar with the learning progression they also become more confident in setting their own learning goals.
Suggestion Four: Empowering students by helping them to see their own progress
Many of the results that students achieve do not necessarily help them to see the progress they are making during their time at school. For example, a student who receives a ‘C’ grade every year may believe they are making no progress at all when they may be progressing as much as a student who consistently receives an ‘A’ grade.
“Supporting and enhancing the wellbeing of students is a priority that we should all share.”
It’s important that students are empowered to see what they have achieved in their own learning, so that they can be encouraged by their own progress without comparing their results to others. Assessments that offer a qualitative guide to progression, where students can see the skills and knowledge they have gained over time, can help students maintain motivation for continuing to learn and challenge themselves.
Supporting and enhancing the wellbeing of students is a priority that we should all share. It is therefore important to consider how practices in assessment and the communication of achievement can impact student wellbeing and look to implement a positive, empowering approach. If we as educators support students through measuring, not judging, learning we are step closer to students becoming confident, lifelong learners.
Learn more about the Australian Council for Educational Research and our signature Progressive Achievement approach that aims to support all students to demonstrate learning progress.