By Catalina Covacevich
A good way to start 2015 is to think on how student learning looks like in Latin America and the Caribbean? To answer this question, different stakeholders of the education world constantly seek to evaluate student learning outcomes. For example, national governments want to know how much their students know compared to those of other countries; teachers look to find out what their students know and are capable of doing at the beginning of the school year to plan lessons along the way; national or local governments may want to understand whether a given policy was effective in achieving certain lessons. Of course, evaluations are also useful tools for college admission processes.
In order for these assessments to achieve their purposes, it is essential to use an adequate instrument. In this context, many teachers, policymakers, researchers and staff of the ministries of education often face the need to select or even design instruments for student learning assessments, without necessarily having skills to do it.
The technical note: “How to select an instrument to evaluate students learning?” aims at becoming a useful tool for people who work in the education sector and have no formal training in designing learning assessments. Its purpose is to provide technical, practical and ethical guidance about the elements that should be taken into account when selecting or building a learning assessment tool.
Some of the questions that often arise while selecting an evaluation instrument and that are addressed in this note are: Why do we want to evaluate? What does the instrument measure? Does it fit our needs? Is it is solid from a technical perspective? Is it easy to manage? Does it fit our possibilities related to costs and time? Does it have a particular cultural or gender bias?
In order to answer these questions, the note highlights how important is that the instrument selected must be consistent with the purpose of evaluation and quality from the technical point of view. It also describes the two main technical features that need to be considered: reliability and validity. Therefore, it entails practical topics, such as the instrument’s cost, its size and its administration and scoring processes. Finally, the note presents different ways of classifying learning assessment instruments.
The documents concludes with a series of ethical and fairness considerations of the learning evaluation instruments, and how these relate to the validity, while pointing to answer the following questions: how to ensure a fair test? How fairness is related to bias and validity? How can we make assessments that are fair for students with special needs? It also describes what kind of ethical behaviour is expected from both the “testers” and the “testees”. In particular, it emphasizes how to deal with fraud and “teaching to the test” issues, in which teachers and education institutions might incur to ensure that their students pass the exam, instead of concentrating on learning.
Finally, it briefly discusses how to determine whether an appropriate instrument already exists or if it is more suitable to design an entirely new one. In fact, it presents “pros” and “cons” of both situations.
Whether your institution is looking to improve its existing instrument to assess student learning or if it wants to create a new one from scratch in 2015, we hope that our note serves you well.
Happy New Year to all from the Division of Education of the Inter-American Development Bank!
*Catalina Covacevich is a specialist in the Education Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), based in the country office of Chile. Her area of specialization is student and teacher assessment