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Challenges in designing tools for ‘Assessment for Learning’

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE, which included frontline curriculum, communicative approach to language teaching, Information Technology, alternatives to homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at educational conferences world over. This article has been taken from G. Balasubramanian’s official website


The objectives of the assessment for learning are largely different from those intended for other contexts of learning. Before engaging into the design of the appropriate and contextual tools, the teachers need to keep in mind a few of the following facts:

1. According to neuro-cognitive psychologists, learning is all about formation of neural networks in the brain.

2. These neural networks are formed and deformed and re-engineered on a continuous basis during learning.

3. The strength of such neural networks (learning) depends on the quality of learning impacted by several influencers

4. The quality of the retention of learning and its extent by the learner is subject to several extraneous and personal influencers.

05. Learning leads to short-term or long-term memory depending on its need, its emotional content, relevance and utility for the learner. Oftentimes, learning could also become volatile memories.

6. Stressful learning has low retention levels in the brain.

7. Learning is impacted by learning preferences of the individual learner and the social context in which one is placed.

8. The process and style of learning for several disciplines of learning might vary from learner to learner.

9. Informal learning could have a positive or negative impact on the formal learning content and its outcome.

10. The learnability of the learner may vary from one to the other; and also, in different contexts and the learning environment for a specific learner.

What are the key factors to be kept in mind in designing the assessment tools?

1. The tools used should be both formal and informal to facilitate the assessment of the entire universe of learning.

2. The tools should cover both the immediate content as well as its proximate influencers so that the extent of learning could be credibly assessed.

3. The tools should cover both objective and subjective elements to assess both the horizontal and the vertical parameters of growth or inadequacy in a holistic learning environment.

4. The instruments of assessment should be wide-ranging to cover the different styles of learning to let the learners make meaningful, responsible and relevant responses.

5. The instruments should relate to different sensory parameters to tap learning through different sensory gateways as well as through multisensory learning, so that all possible perceptions of learning are covered through the assessment.

6. The design of every assessment tool needs to be well articulated to address one single and specific dimension of learning at a given time, so that the responses are equally focussed, articulate and specific to the purpose for which it is intended, to eliminate possibilities of misconceptions either in understanding the tool or making an appropriate response.

7. The tools for assessment should be of varied designs, verbal, non-verbal, visual, auditory, graphical, pictorial and of other categories so that it gives a fair and equitable opportunity to every learner to make a choice of the tool with better comfort; and respond in his or her own style making one’s communicated complete, adequate, comprehensive and constructive.

8. The language, the syntax, the triggers seeking responses should always solicit one and only response, to avoid overlap of contents, meanings and skills, thereby leading to conflicts of perceptions in assessment. Absence of clarity in tools might lead to multiplicity of perceptions in designing responses or incorrect responses.

9. The tools could be interactive and facilitate in making multiple observations of the learning of a learner both immediately and over a period of time.

10. The design of the tools of assessment should not have a negative intent either through language or difficult level to project the vastness of a learning gap, but should have a positive reinforcement to facilitate the bridging of learning gaps through diagnosis.

Tools of Assessment: Formal tools of Assessment

The challenges among the teachers in the design of the assessment tools include:

1. The formal tools for assessment get already pre-fixed in their mind as a pattern.

2. Teachers tend to play with such assessment tools with which they have a higher psychological comfort level.

3. The teachers enjoy in engaging most tools in a repetitive manner to avoid further design challenges.

4. The workload pertaining to newer formats is demanding and hence there is a tendency to procrastinate engagement with such challenges.

5. The current professional engagements do not give adequate time and energy to engage into newer creative models. All these and more act as inhibitors to purposeful designs for assessment for learning. Nevertheless, it is important to cross all these barriers to transform learning so that the system moves with ease to education 4.0.

This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine September 2021 edition.


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