What do we mean by evaluation and assessment?
It is useful to begin by distinguishing between three different terms: evaluation, testing and assessment.
Evaluation involves making qualitative judgements about various aspects of performance. It is carried out to understand how (well) aspects of education work. At a macro level, these could be, for example, an education system or a given curriculum; at a micro-level, an individual student’s learning progress might be evaluated. Evaluation should be considered in terms of seeing the “bigger picture.”
Testing refers to a set of tasks, which looks at certain types of human behaviours; in the case of language testing, these may be knowledge of language or competences etc. An examination is a set of tests administered within the framework of an institution or by an official body.
Assessment, as defined in the CEFR (chapter 9), is concerned with assessing the proficiency of language learners by means of various instruments which provide evidence of their competences. An instrument may be an examination, which takes a snapshot of a learner’s performance at a specific moment; it may also be a portfolio completed over time.
There are three main types of assessment:
- Formative assessment is intended to help learners to learn more effectively. It does not grade the learner but focuses on the learner’s strengths and weaknesses and gives guidance on how to improve language competence and suggests the way ahead for further learning.
- Summative assessment takes place to show what has been achieved and the extent to which an intended goal has been reached. It is usually made by means of a test or examination and performance is measured my means of a grade.
- Self-assessment allows individuals to assess their own learning progress, (what level am I at? what can I do with language? have I really learned what I wanted to learn? etc.)
This self-assessment can be carried out with tools like the European Language Portfolio, where learners record what they are able to do in the language (using can do statements) and make a personal judgment of their competences.
Assessment is often used as a control mechanism and to monitor a learner’s actions; if there is too much emphasis placed on the control aspects of assessment, it can become a deterrent to further learning and improving skills. In order to make assessment more positive and to encourage progress, assessment should ideally become a companion to learning, where learners are involved in the process, and can assess themselves, their skills, their achievements, and the problems which they experience.