Nov. 15, 2010 Teachers regularly test the wrong things or they test students for the wrong purpose. We can handle this differently and better, states Dutch researcher Uriël Schuurs. Teachers need tests to evaluate what a student has already learned and what he still needs to learn. A student also takes tests to make progress in his own learning process. However, research by the Expertise Centre for the Dutch Language (Expertisecentrum Nederlands) has shown that there is a gap between what teachers want to test and what standard language tests have to offer.
Measuring students' learning performances generally serves two goals: teachers test their students as a form of feedback and as a part of the learning process (assessment for learning) or teachers test students to examine them and to evaluate the progress of the learning process (assessment of learning). Schuurs studied recent academic literature and asked teachers about language tests in secondary and further vocational education to gain insight into the current practice of testing.
Hardly any standardisation
In theory, there is a clear difference between assessment for learning and assessment of learning. Depending on the purpose of the test, different requirements can be defined. In practice it seems, however, that teachers hardly make a distinction between the different test types. Especially in further vocational education, various test purposes are thrown together in a heap and hardly any use is made of standardised tests. The tests that are being used are often developed by teachers themselves and generally do not comply with reasonable reliability requirements. As a result, the value of the test remains unclear, which hinders students, teachers and the vocational sector. In secondary vocational education, little innovative language testing takes place.
Student's learning process needs better support
Schuurs notices that many teachers expect more from a test than the purpose for which it was developed. Teachers want one test to serve multiple purposes. For instance, they want to be able to judge the performance of a student and at the same time they want to identify the student's weaknesses and the pathway the student should follow. But one test cannot bring all these things to light, says Schuurs. This approach to testing means that opportunities are overlooked. A student's learning process can be supported better if teachers start to examine better.
Reintroduce central exams in further vocational education
On the basis of his research, Schuurs concludes that for further vocational education, the best approach would be to (re)introduce central exams based on national standards. In further vocational education, teachers, in particular, have high expectations that cannot be met with the tests. The converse is true for secondary vocational education, where tests could be used more as part of the learning process. This could, for example, be realised by having students create portfolios, regularly giving them feedback and making them evaluate each other's work (peer evaluation).
Transition from secondary to further vocational education needs improvement
Education policy is aimed at facilitating so-called continuous learning pathways, which enable students to effortlessly move from secondary to further vocational education. Schuurs contends that the difference in testing methods between secondary and further vocational education hinders a smooth transition between the two. In his research, Schuurs provides teachers with tips on how to choose the right testing methods.
The study Measuring learning performances in (v)mbo: assessment for learning and assessment of learning was commissioned by the Dutch Programme Council for Educational Research, a research unit of NWO, and was carried out by Dr U. Schuurs and Prof L. Verhoeven of the Expertise Centre for the Dutch Language (Expertisecentrum Nederlands) in Nijmegen.
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