Participatory Assessment in Education: A step closer to student-centred education

by Tulio Barrios BullingRicardo Cristi López

What is not measured cannot be improved”. This idea is popular in the world of educational assessment, and especially common in the field of learning assessment. However, the statement does not help us determine what is assessed, how it is assessed or who carries out the assessment.

While traditional summative and normed psychometric assessment is effective when it comes to measuring learning, it does not allow for comprehensive or individualised responses to each question in the assessment or take into account every factor involved in the teaching-learning process. Thus, new evaluative trends are emerging in an effort to fill these gaps and introduce more formative and comprehensive aspects to learning assessment. These include Assessment for Learning, Authentic Assessment and more recently, the Transformation Assessment Framework.

These three new approaches share the belief that assessment should not be limited to providing a grade. Instead, according to the logic of continuous improvement, it should consist of a process that monitors student learning in order to offer continuous feedback and suggest changes to the teacher’s input. The hope is that these interventions significantly improve student learning. The assessment activities involved in these approaches are formative, and often simple, quick, low-stake and applicable during class time. Teachers can access the results immediately and can therefore make adjustments to their lessons in real time. Feedback also serves as formative assessment.

Unlike summative assessment, its formative counterpart is not only used to measure and quantify students’ learning levels, but also to provide teachers with relevant information that they can use to improve their educational practice. In this sense, the level of student involvement in assessment processes is fundamental in order that the results are more meaningful and representative.

So, what does student participation look like? Studies have consistently shown that their role is often limited to the single task of answering questions in a test. This represents a low level of student participation in the assessment process. We believe that students should be involved in all three of its stages: the design, the implementation and the grading.

For Quesada, García-Jiménez and Gómez-Ruiz (2017), who follow the Transformation Assessment approach, the first stage should involve agreeing on the focus of the assessment and the different planning aspects involved. These should include the assessment criteria, the tasks to be completed and who should carry them out, the assessment instruments and the weighting of each item. The second stage, implementation, should take into consideration both the person who is assessing the learning and the person whose learning is being assessed, in order to determine the most appropriate assessment modality and thereby ensure the most appropriate instrument is chosen given the required information and the characteristics of the area being assessed. The final stage, grading, should include the information provided by the people responsible for the assessment (feedback) and this should be reflected in the final grades obtained in the subject, which should in turn be translated into decision making to help improve pedagogical processes and strengthen future learning outcomes.

Beyond the ways in which students participate in the assessment of their learning, it is advantageous to include them for a number of reasons. First, student participation in the assessment process leads to more reliable evidence of learning, as it makes it less likely that the assessment will be carried out using traditional techniques or a single method. Self-assessment or peer-to-peer methods save significant amounts of time for teachers who no longer need to spend hours assessing the work of their students. This newly available time can be reinvested in providing deeper and more meaningful feedback to each of their students.

Another significant advantage of participatory assessment is that it strengthens students’ metacognition as they become more conscious of their cognitive processes, gaining understanding and autonomy. This enables students to identify and value the demands of a particular task or activity, assess their knowledge of the topic, plan how to approach the task at hand, monitor the process and apply adjustments where necessary.

A third advantage of participatory assessment is that it encourages students to commit to their own learning process, which in turn has a positive impact on their levels of motivation. Commitment and motivation provide the student with a stronger desire to finish the tasks or activities they have been assigned well. This gives them more ownership over the learning and teaching processes in which they are involved.

Finally, students develop skills and qualities as a result of this participatory process (critical thinking, collaborative working, autonomy, resilience, communication, tolerance, respect, empathy, etc.) which will remain with them for the rest of their lives and which are transferable to other areas of personal and occupational development.

If the benefits of participatory assessment are known, why are they so seldom used? Many teachers probably feel afraid of losing the control they have over the teaching-learning process and over the assessment process itself. Some may fear losing their central role, while others were trained under a teacher-centred teaching approach. Others will not feel prepared to handle the methodological and conceptual changes involved in introducing a participatory assessment approach.

Certain experiences have shown that engaging in student participation can be physically and emotionally exhausting for teachers. On the other hand, positive experiences of applying participatory assessment may be found too, such as at Ikasolas (especially in the privately-run schools funded by the state) in the Basque Autonomous Community, or in schools in Catalonia, which have used different strategies to promote the active participation of students in assessments of the teaching-learning process. This means that students can assess their own progress, participate in the assessment of their peers and collaborate in decision-making about improvement strategies.

Achieving open and decisive student participation in assessment processes may lead to significant changes in the culture of a school. This effect is not welcomed by all and may be resisted by many teachers, making it a difficult change to achieve. However, convincing leadership by a strong management team can lead to significant advances that in turn lead to better learning.

It is also important to note that a certain level of resistance may even come from the students themselves. The requirement to participate in new ways will move them out of the comfort zone of being passive spectators. Many students see the development of their autonomy as a challenge that they do not feel ready for. We must face these challenges head-on if we want participatory assessment to be the next step forward in education.

Quesada, V., García-Jiménez, E., & Gómez-Ruiz, M.Á. (2017). Student Participation in Assessment Processes: A Way Forward. Pennsylvania: IGI Global

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