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The national exam was an unfortunate series of events and the troubles are pouring in like Lemony Snicket’s thought-provoking fiction. They keep coming and disturbing everyone, certainly for the test taker students, their parents and teachers alike.
However, we have a delusional education and culture minister who finds excuses at every turn of the exam process. The public is left in the dark about the role of assessment in education.
Education has at least three important processes: curriculum, instruction and assessment. Let us discuss the last part of the process. Assessment takes an important role in education because it has at least five goals. First, it provides information about the students’ understanding of the subject matter. Second, it emphasizes the important aspects of the subject matter that students must master. Third, it gives teachers an important tool to adjust and adapt the subject matter. Fourth, it guarantees an objective evaluation of students and teachers. Fifth, it inculcates good values in society, such as discipline, fairness, honesty and promptness.
What is important in meaningful learning, according to Dietel, Hermann and Knuth (1991), is how and whether students organize, structure and use the learning subject matter in the context to solve complex problems. Have we educated our children properly? More importantly, have we assessed our students properly as well?
We have been conducting high-risk testing annually and dutifully, amid the criticism. The National Education Law is a blanket guarantee for the national exams. Indonesian educators, bureaucrats and I may overlook the essence of assessment due to the gravity of routine and administrative tasks around us. We learned from history that this kind of attitude might shoulder a risk of sacrificing the bright minds of future generations all over the country.
There are two types of assessment: formative and summative. National exams or other high-risk testing are summative type. In summative testing, a student is assessed in the end of learning process, one time and one chance only. An interesting analogy by Stake, R. as cited in Earl (2004) as the following, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”
Formative testing type, on the other hand, is a continuous assessment during the learning period. Students take the test on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The advantages of formative testing are twofold. First, it gives the students an early warning to study now, not later. The test persuades students to study frequently, to be aware of his or her gap between what s/he knows and what s/he should know in certain stage of learning subject matter. Cramming, studying in a hurry just before the test day is discouraged.
Second, it provides the teachers information about the students’ comprehension and gives warnings to adjust, adapt and improve the teaching process. Formative evaluation facilitates a meaningful and constructive learning process. Students learn new things based on what they have known; meanings were developed and created by the students from their reflection and experience.
Assessment is not a rocket science. Why can’t we conduct formative and summative assessment harmoniously in our schools? The answer is teachers. Our teachers are not trained to conduct proper assessments. Some experts believe that teachers with good assessment skills will overcome many learning problems in their classrooms because they know what is needed to deliver the subject matter. A skillful teacher can integrate assessment in a classroom action research through a quantitative or qualitative method or both.
For example, teacher A just delivered the theory of gravity. At the end of session, she asked students to fill out a quiz that neatly listed all the knowledge items from the subject matter. The quiz can be arranged as building blocks of gravity theory and its each relation to the teaching and learning techniques that have been implemented. Teacher A then could build a schematic platform that describes the relationships between students’ comprehension and the teaching techniques.
In the next session, the teacher can adjust her teaching technique to the one that is most effective in conveying the knowledge to students. This test-and-adjust process runs along the learning process until the end of semester or year. At the end of the learning period, the teacher can be rest assured that the students can take a local, regional or national level summative assessment.
The national exam in this scheme is assembled on the formative assessments. Students have been taking the tests and building their knowledge on the subject matter from day one. Ideally, the formative tests are conducted every time students complete certain stages of the learning process. Students learn from their mistakes and successes because assessment is an important part of teaching and learning.
A good assessment develops good learning; good learning builds good education. Indeed, it is a beautiful concept that first and foremost requires qualified teachers. We need to train and upgrade our teachers, especially in assessment and research skills.
In conclusion, assessment must be done thoroughly by teachers. Failure in managing assessment is a failure in managing education.
The writer is the deputy rector for academics, research and student affairs at Paramadina University, Jakarta.