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Assessing the assessment of students


By Fred Michah Rynor

November 12, 2012

It might come as a surprise that, even though the world of education is one of the most examined disciplines in the world, assessment practices for teachers to properly identify their students' needs and challenges are seriously lacking.

In order to address this situation, Associate Professor Eunice Jang of Applied Psychology and Human Development, will use a LEADS (Learning Environments Across Disciplines) partnership with 18 other international researchers, awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Jang specializes in cognitive diagnostic assessment, test fairness and validity, mixed methods inquiry approaches and program evaluation.

New assessment approaches are necessary, Jang states, for understanding the ways in which students learn in technology-rich learning environments. Using cognitive skills diagnostic approaches, she's seeking innovative ways to recognize complex learning patterns and associated cognitive, emotional and psychological processes and then use them to provide interactive feedback tailored to individual learners.

But some laypeople have asked if there isn't already a library of information on assessment techniques. To this, Jang says "Absolutely not! We've made impressive progress, but it’s been too slow to make assessment fully integrated into teaching and learning especially when you look at teacher education programs currently offered throughout the system. In fact, there are no programs at most institutions on assessment and when you talk to educators it's their number one area of interest for professional development."

Jang recalls one student (working as a full-time secondary school teacher) who remarked that even though she had been working in classrooms for seven years, still didn't know how to properly assess her students.

Jang, the recipient of the 2006 Jacqueline Ross TOEFL Dissertation Award, the Tatsuoka Measurement Award and the Katharine Aston Award for Outstanding Thesis, has also collaborated with teachers, educators at school boards, policy makers at the Ontario Ministry of Education and researchers from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  

"Most negative views of assessment are associated with the current high-stakes testing largely serving the purposes of selection and accountability ... as well as our obsession with marks as a society," states Jang. "We need to regain the real strength of assessment and by building teachers’ assessment competency we'll contribute to teacher professionalism. In building assessment competency, what matters is not the kind of assessment methods as there is no single assessment method that fits all. Instead, we need to focus more on how to evaluate the appropriateness, usefulness and meaningfulness of interpretations and use based on systematic observations of student performance given a learning task.”

Jang currently teaches a number of courses on assessment such as 'Assessing School-Aged Language Learners'', 'A Foundation of Program Evaluation in Social Sciences' , 'Mixed Methods Research Design in Social Science' and 'Designing and Validating Educational and Cognitively Diagnostic Assessment'.

"The LEADS program partners and I were so very happy and relieved to receive this partnership grant from SSHRC" she states. "We met at a workshop last summer to work on the grant proposal over three days and it certainly paid off. Seventeen researchers and partners met again at McGill University this past summer and I could already see a synergistic effect of the interdisciplinary partnership. The exciting journey to bring that effect to classrooms has just begun!”