‘What’s in an ‘A’? Assessment for learning at CAES – Assessment Special Interest Group
Assessment Special Interest Group, Centre for Applied English Studies (CAES)
Assessment for learning within CAES is embedded into our assessment processes. The predominant feature of assessments at CAES is that they are designed to promote learning, both during and after the end of a course. When they begin CAES courses, students come with diverse prior language learning experiences and therefore have divergent needs. As a result of these divergent needs, outcomes can also be somewhat divergent, making the need to tie in assessment with learning all the greater. As grades contribute to students’ GPAs, there is still a pressing need for a formal assessment of learning, yet in our opinion, this assessment information may be viewed as somewhat provisional, given that learning to write and speak appropriately in various academic contexts is a multi-faceted, complex, and time-consuming process – and certainly does not ‘end’ when a course is completed or when an ‘A’, ‘B’ grade has been assigned. So, to cater for a wide range of student needs, assessment needs to be sustainable, student-centred and largely for the purposes of learning.
In order to fully promote learning in language and assessment for learning students must be central players in the assessment process. Only then can learning be sustainable beyond the course. Ultimately it is the students who need to use the assessment information during and after the course to further their own learning. Students need to become aware of what good quality work looks like, where their work stands in comparison, and what they can do to bridge the gap. A key determinant in the success of this approach is the quality of the interaction between the teacher, peers and the student themselves. Teachers need to know how and when to help students to develop their evaluative capabilities, as too much support is not only unsustainable, but also potentially harmful to students developing their own evaluative capacities for language effectively.
This procedure is helped by a constant reflection on our assessment practices at CAES, including a current Teacher Development Grant project for investigating the validity of our speaking test rubrics. We at CAES are committed to making the assessment process as fair and transparent as possible, not only so that our assessment practice meets the highest possible rigour and standards, but that students are left in no doubt about what is expected of them, and what they need to do to meet these expectations. Assessment for learning at CAES therefore is about much more than just giving feedback to students. The aim is to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ students what good language looks like and what skilled writers/speakers do so that students can learn how to improve their language skills beyond the end of the course without a language teacher – which, after all, is what learning should really be about.