What does assessment mean?
Is learning without assessing even possible? Maybe. But it would surely be complicated without any ability to measure learners before, during and after the educational process. Also, it wouldn’t produce any reliable and actionable data on the performance of the students or trainees.
The worlds of education and business rely on assessments to estimate skills and knowledge. Without it, teaching would be chaotic, incapable of demonstrating progress or individual and group performance in relation to standards. Instead, it would only produce vague, uncertain outcomes. Let’s find out what the meaning of assessment is.
Assessment is a process of testing and judging someone’s knowledge, abilities and skills in order to measure them. It includes various methods, from informal, such as role-playing or trivia quiz, to formal, for example, school exit exam or professional certification like financial advisor licenses.
The assessment definitions are the same for both educational and business purposes. The only difference between them is the reason why learners’ skills and knowledge are assessed. Educational uses include K12 and university teaching processes. In industry, assessments support HR, recruitment, training and certification processes.
To further define assessments, we will describe different types and show how they are put into practice. What methods they use to gather information about learners and quantify the knowledge they possess. Finally, how they can help involve parents or guardians, children and youth in the learning processes.
Evaluate vs. assess. Similar, but not the same.
The two words: evaluation and assessment are often used interchangeably. However, those two are not the same, and we will describe both of them and all the main differences between them below.
What is evaluation?
It’s an objective judgment and grading of any subject’s value, quality, and significance. For this purpose, the evaluation uses the whole set of well-defined criteria and benchmarks. The word “evaluate” (originally “valere”) is of Latin origins and used to mean “to apply” and “to count”.
To evaluate is to make a judgment. In this case, about learners in business or educational environments, and to know more about their skills and abilities.
What is assessment?
Assessment is an ongoing process concentrating on monitoring students and their learning. Assessing provides a teacher with vital information about how the learners react to the teaching. It also allows students to provide feedback to make teachers’ work even more effective.
Assessing is based on gathering important information about each student’s particular skills, strengths, and weaknesses. With that data, a teacher can adjust the teaching process to each of their student's needs rather than expect them to stick to one way of presenting the curriculum.
|Is usually an ongoing process||Is always a one-off judgment|
|Identifies areas for improvement||Judges knowledge and provides a score|
|Encourages cooperation||Encourages competition|
|Ungraded or graded||Always graded|
|Offers positive feedback to improve learning||Offers no feedback on how learners can perform better|
Assessment and evaluation differ as the former is learner-centered and focuses on the students and their needs. It strives to provide them with feedback and improve their learning processes. Evaluation is teacher-centered, because it aims at providing the teachers with information about how their students perform against expected standards.
Teachers and trainers use assessments to observe the educational process and get information on how their students learn. This long-term strategy allows constant adjustments to the needs of learners. Evaluation quantifies skills and knowledge in a one-off event. Educators can compare the results of several evaluations, but won’t be able to draw any conclusions apart from what grade a person got.
The next difference between assessment and evaluation is what both provide to the learner. Assessments identify both strong and weak spots of knowledge. Evaluations point to areas where respondents fail and don’t focus on their achievements. Learners receive only negative information and might have difficulties improving.
Assessments are less competitive as they don’t have to be quantified and end with a grade. They inspire friendly cooperation among students/trainees. Evaluations, on the other hand, show individual performance vs. group. Learners prefer competition over cooperation which might lead to a rat race.
Another evaluation vs assessment difference is that assessments don’t always have to end with a grade. Even when they do, the feedback is the most valuable part of the result, not the grade. On the other hand, evaluations must end with a grade, a quantification of the performance. Only that way can they show the individual performance versus the expected threshold.
One of the most significant advantages of assessments is the opportunity to provide feedback to the students. That feedback is detailed and personalized, taking into account individual abilities and educational needs. It is, therefore, more effective, friendly and encouraging. Evaluation, on the other hand, offers very limited feedback.
The ability to suggest how to improve a student’s performance with feedback is crucial to modern education. National curriculums no longer aim at cookie-cutting students, but rather exploiting their inherent differences and helping them grow and evolve at their own pace.
So, there is a clear distinction between evaluation and assessment. Both have their place in the world of education and training, but they are disparate and should not be used interchangeably.
Types of assessments
The worlds of education and business use several types of assessments to quantify skills and knowledge and to measure learning progress. When considering the purpose, we can name 3 main kinds: diagnostic, formative and summative.
However, various institutions use different methodologies, and the actual number of assessment types could reach 10. The ones we describe in detail are the 3 most commonly used forms of assessment. We cover their advantages, disadvantages and what tools they use.
As the name suggests, this assessment is meant to diagnose skills and knowledge before the teaching process starts.
Establishing a starting point gives educators a wealth of information about the current level of their students. It is advantageous when a group is new or there are new students with unknown levels of knowledge.
Diagnostic assessments in education
They provide invaluable data on how diverse the group is, that is, how many high-performers and underachievers there are. With the diagnostic assessment results, a skilled teacher can then prepare a teaching plan that caters for the needs of all people within their group.
Diagnostic assessments are useful in the business environment
Onboarding a new team member might include a diagnostic assessment of their skills. With it, the HR department can prepare an individualized progress plan and introduce thresholds the person should reach. Diagnostic assessments are an excellent source of data about the competencies of employees at the starting point of training.
|➕ Easy to use for all kinds of students/trainees.||➖ Might require special training for the teachers/trainers to be reliably administered and scored.|
|➕ Informal, therefore less stressful.||➖ Might require remote testing platforms' assistance, to quickly analyze results from a large number of respondents.|
|➕ Provide reliable, actionable data in a short timeframe.|
|➕ Flexible, don’t require protocols or extensive administrative skills.|
|➕ Provide solid data in all group sizes, and their effectiveness increases as the group grows, as the effort per person decreases.|
Diagnostic assessments can be performed using:
educator observations, etc.
They are used to evaluate skills and knowledge gained during learning processes after a subject has been taught. Summative assessments are usually carried out at the end of a unit, topic or term and focus on comparing what a student has learned against the expected standard.
Summative assessments in education
In the case of K12 and higher education, the benchmark level of knowledge is regulated by the national education law. In business, it could be governed by law (some professions require periodic assessments of expertise to meet national criteria) or by internal directives of particular companies or institutions.
Summative assessments in the business world
They can provide reliable data on the current level of knowledge of each team member. They can be used in HR to evaluate training effectiveness. In recruitment processes, they are able to clearly demonstrate whether a prospective employee has the skill set that the employer requires, especially when it comes to hard skills.
Benefits for business certification institutions are apparent, as summative assessments allow them to demonstrate that the respondents possess the skills and knowledge required to obtain a certificate.
|➕ Highly reusable, as usually generic. Can be reused for as long as the curriculum doesn’t change. However, teachers and trainers shouldn't forget that it can encourage cheating and make it easier.||➖ They are formal, highly evaluative, and therefore more stressful for the respondents.|
|➕ Provide short, coherent information on the results of particular learners, necessary for recordkeeping purposes within an institution.||➖ Require extensive preparations for teachers/trainers, especially for high-stakes tests and exams. Poorly prepared summative assessments can cause respondents to underperform.|
|➕ Help identify weak areas of skills and knowledge.||➖ Bad results may lower learners’ self-esteem, and make learning even more challenging.|
|➕ Offer a clear and unbiased indication of whether a student/trainee meets the criteria required to receive a diploma, degree or professional certificate.||➖ Summative assessments are often one-offs, so they don’t give educators important insights into how their learners’ performance changed over time. It makes adjusting teaching plans more difficult.|
Examples of summative assessments include
Annual and final projects.
University admission tests.
Unlike summative, formative assessments don’t wait for the educational process to end. Instead, the formative assessment process is planned and ongoing, based on continuous evaluation of the students'/trainees’ knowledge as they learn.
It focuses on long-term achievements and well-being rather than on temporary gains.
Formative assessment not only shows how well someone mastered specific material. Due to its ongoing character it also provides essential feedback on how good that person is at learning in general.
Formative assessments are proactive. They don’t focus only on one-way, teacher-to-student communication, but encourage the learner to participate in the process. They also provide teachers/trainers with regular, detailed, actionable data on their performance as educators. By monitoring their students’/trainees’ learning, they know what they’ve done well and what areas they still need to improve.
This kind of assessment is friendly towards the learners and focuses on providing them with the type of feedback they need to progress. It motivates and highlights achievements instead of focusing on shortcomings, as summative assessments do.
In the business world
In the corporate environment, formative and summative assessments work side by side to maximize insights into the processes of training, team building, recruitment, etc. They are complementary and offer learning analyses which help during decision-making processes.
Formative assessments have the advantage of providing in-depth information to make decision data-driven:
Based on learners’ progress, they point to areas where they struggle. This helps identify the parts of training on which educators should focus their attention to ensure trainees progress as a group.
They quickly identify high-performing team members who steadily progress with their skills and knowledge. Those people might be future mentors and top candidates for succession planning.
Better assessments with remote testing
The above advantages are even more helpful when combined with modern online testing platforms. Those apps eliminate the main drawback of formative assessments: the time-consuming drawing of conclusions.
While humans need hours and even days to interpret data, an online test tool breaks down all gathered results in seconds. Algorithms assess and weigh group and individual performance to return detailed analyses and statistics. Actionable data help the management make well-founded decisions.
|➕ Focus on long-term goals, rather than on getting a good grade and progressing to another unit.||➖ Assessments, especially formative, are incredibly time-consuming. The more students or trainees there are in a group, the more teachers and trainers have to spend checking the assessment effects and providing feedback.|
|➕ Increased learners’ participation in the educational processes, making them feel “they belong” and more eager to learn.||➖ This is problematic if teachers are overworked. When they perform multiple administrative duties, they can't analyze the needs of their students thoroughly. As a result, they don't always have the time for comments that struggling learners need.|
|➕ Enabling students and trainees to understand more about what and how they learn with extensive feedback from educators.||➖ Formative assessments require more effort in planning and organizing. They can’t be reused en masse, as the educational needs of every learner vary. Also, unlike their summative counterparts, they demand teachers and trainers to have the capability to utilize the wealth of collected information.|
|➕ Promotes cooperation and positive learning experience, as opposed to traditional education, which is highly competitive and indifferent to stressing learners.||➖ Educational and business institutions that use formative assessments must have special procedures in place to deal with gathered data, process it and draw actionable conclusions. This can’t be done halfway.|
Good examples of formative assessments in use include:
lesson/training entry and exit slips,
Assessments of, for and as learning
Another methodology indicates 3 different types of assessments. This time the division is based on the relation to learning, not how they measure knowledge and learning progress:
Assessments of learning
Assessments for learning
Assessments as learning
Assessments of learning
These are grade-based and focus on verifying if students meet specific criteria. For example, a national curriculum for mathematics dictates that schoolchildren should master multiplication tables by the end of grade 3. The best and the most objective way to verify if they did so is to test them. In that respect, it is very close to the definition of evaluation.
Hence, assessments of learning are strongly connected to summative assessments. Their primary purpose is to provide quantitative information about skills and knowledge. They do not consider efforts and provide hardly any constructive comments.
Apart from demonstrating only what a student or trainee doesn’t know, they also fail to deliver actionable feedback to the teachers/tutors. A learner's grade on a scale from A to F or a percentage score is not the best way to inform the educator about the quality of their teaching.
As a result, a new, formative approach is now being introduced to complement assessments of learning and summative assessment in many K12 and higher education fields.
Assessments for learning
These focus on creating an ongoing educational process rather than a series of short, unrelated tasks. This holistic approach evolves naturally over time due to constant adjustments to the teaching methodology based on ‘trial and error’. Assessments for learning acknowledge differences between students and groups and point out that educators should adapt their teaching during the process.
Educators usually start by identifying the needs of their learners. Based on their findings, they create a teaching plan. The implementation of that plan includes periodical assessments that serve as feedback to the educators, who can judge the effectiveness of their efforts and adjust them accordingly. This process continues and evolves during the entire course or training.
Assessments for learning are perfect for creating long-term projects and maintaining a positive attitude of the learners. Students and trainees know that their feedback affects the educational process, so they feel much more involved and eager to learn.
Assessments as learning
They position students and trainees as active partners in assessing their knowledge and learning progress. This happens through the support and development of their metacognitive skills. One example of assessment as learning is self-assessing. Learners are encouraged to monitor their progress, which partially puts them in control of the educational process. At the same time, they interact with teachers/trainers and peers.
This empowers students, gives them more capacity and makes them feel much more important. When young learners are shown respect and trust, they are much more likely to make adult decisions and treat education more seriously. When in control of their own learning experience, they acquire knowledge faster.
Students and trainees are no longer passive recipients of the curriculum that the teacher or trainer introduces. Learners can also do more than provide feedback on the quality of education. They are more actively involved at every step of the learning process, including grading, which until recently remained the sole focus of teachers.
Educators can do much more than teach. They motivate students to use their initiative. Peer reviews encourage friendly socializing and are important now, as learners find it more and more challenging to interact with others. Self-assessments inspire them to assume control of their own learning.
A clearer picture of the differences
We can compare the 3 types of assessments to 3 different approaches to the internet.
Assessments of learning are like web 1.0. There is only a one-way and one-time flow of information from websites (educators) to users (students).
Assessments for learning are similar to web 2.0. Information flows both ways (due to constant feedback from users) and websites (educators) adapt to cater for the changing needs of users (students).
Assessments as learning can be compared to web 3.0. In addition to a two-way flow of information, users (students) can generate and own content (peer- and self-assess). This type of assessment empowers learners who can now use their own initiative to boost their learning processes.
Each consecutive assessment strategy is more inclusive than its predecessor. It produces better outcomes by involving students in educational processes rather than just teaching them and measuring how much they learned.
Assessment and evaluation methods
Have you ever wondered what the differences between quizzes, tests and exams are?
They are all methods of assessment used for various kinds of judging knowledge. But almost anything can one of methods of assessment or evaluation: a simple question, a presentation or a discussion, even a game.
Here, we concentrate on the three most common methods. Keep in mind that the lines between them are blurred. Some quizzes might be hard to tell from tests, and some tests from exams, as this matter is incredibly complex.
For example, an assessment that one teacher calls a test might be a quiz for another educator. The same assessment, made of precisely the same questions, might be a quiz if it’s a low-stakes or a test when the impact of the grade is more significant.
What is a test?
It is the most generic term of all three mentioned above. Tests are mostly associated with the world of education, where the hierarchy is: quiz - test - exam. It is also easy to find them in a business environment.
In the class or training room, you test groups and particular learners to verify their skills and knowledge. In education, tests signify evaluations of medium importance. They can be graded, but don’t have to be, for example, when used for self-assessment.
Some tests can be short, informal and sometimes taken for fun. They are then called quizzes. Others can be longer, more complex, formal and important. Those are exams.
What is a quiz?
It is a short, casual and the most common method of assessments and evaluations. It usually covers a small amount of material and has no or little impact on the final grade. Quizzes are often unannounced. However, they can also form an inherent part of each lesson or training. Educators might use them that way to see what their students or trainees learned during that particular class.
A quiz is a low-stakes type of assessment, so is the least stressful of all. Educators use them to keep their learners engaged and focused. They also help them prepare for more important assessments: tests and exams.
What is an exam?
It is the longest, the most complex and the most formal method of assessing or evaluating skills and knowledge. It measures how well learners mastered the entire scope of a course or training. Exams take the most time and are the most important of all three methods. Students and trainees who fail must retake it, sometimes even retake the entire course or training.
Exams are always graded. That is because a clear measure of the participant’s skills and knowledge must support a pass or fail grade. They are also the most significant and often have the most serious impact on the future of a learner.
You can find assessments and evaluations in all shapes and sizes. Easy and hard, formal and informal, teacher- or learner-centered, in a business or educational environment. The reason behind the variety of methods used by business and education is that to be effective, they must adapt to their learners’ needs.
The nature of education is atomized and fragmented, different not only between countries and their educational systems. Even schools within one city can adopt different approaches to what is assessment and what is evaluation. Sometimes even teachers of one school disagree if something is a test or a quiz.
The bottom line is that by assessing and evaluating, educators in schools and businesses discover invaluable information: how to teach for effectiveness. With that knowledge, they can maximize their learners' performance, participation and well-being.
Assessments and evaluations in schools and business environments help teachers and trainers determine how to achieve maximum effectiveness in providing their learners with skills and knowledge.
The guide to methods of assessment and their everyday use
Assessments promote learning and quantify its effects. They are the ultimate source of knowledge for education and business. Learn more about all the methods you can use and start gathering insights, not just scores.
October 27, 2022
13 min read