Formal assessment has been in the educational system since time immemorial. It is the traditional method of measuring objective evidence of learning amongst the students. For teachers, the feedback serves as a roadmap on how to meet the learning needs of the students more efficiently and precisely. It can also evaluate the effectiveness of their instructional strategies relative to their learning objectives and make necessary adjustments if needed. However, it is not a perfect assessment tool. It has weaknesses that can mask actual evidence of learning. Formal assessment uses standardized measurements, which banks on recall of facts. Although it can be tailored carefully to bring out high level cognition, it is still difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint direct evidence of learning. Students could have guessed and have chosen the right answer out of sheer luck. Futhermore, it is a very competitive type of assessment, so it puts so much unnecessary stress or pressure on the students, which may limit the students’ performance.
I myself don’t like this type of assessment. My body tends to go overdrive when I am placed under so much pressure and in effect, my performance is affected. Back then, it was not uncommon for me to have some form of “mental blackouts” during the test so I dreaded it. However, some students feel comfortable with this kind of testing and they perform well. They like the adrenaline rush because perhaps it brings out the best in them. Some are also just good testtakers. I believe this is where the imbalance comes in. Formal assessment tools largely depend on an examinee’s ability to cope with the stress that comes with taking a test, therefore, they are not the only assessment tools that could capture actual evidence of learning. To create a more balanced measurement, informal assessments are incorporated in teaching-learning processes.
There are different methods of informal assessment that can be used to measure evidence of learning. For example, observation technique, when properly used, can reveal right then and there if a child has a sound grasp of the concept based on his or her performance. Another is using interview to measure level of understanding or pinpoint misconceptions that can be easily addressed by the teacher. Since there are many types of informal assessments available, teachers should know what type would be more appropriate for or will work best to meet the learning needs of his or her class. Furthermore, having the required technical skill to implement it properly is also as important.
Just like formal assessment, it also has an Achilles’ heel. In informal asessment, measurement of evidence of learning is highly subjective and challenging due to lack of standardized measurements. If the teacher is not prudent or self-aware of his or her actions or thought processes, his or her subjectivity can creep in silently and influence his or her objectivity. This can happen even to the most experienced or seasoned teacher inside the class. So, how can a teacher avoid this from happening? This is where the art of “reflective teaching” comes in and becomes pivotal in their role as a teacher. It means to have a deep and conscious cognition and awareness of one’s actions and thought processes inside the class. This is used to avoid one’s own beliefs, practices, and biases, influence or get in the way of one’s objectivity inside the class. Furthermore, being cognizant of one’s actions and thought processes will also make a teacher more aware of the learning objectives and its alignment to the instructional strategies so that he or she won’t be derailed or digress from his or her target course.
In conclusion, informal assessments cannot supplant formal assessments or vice versa. I firmly believe that there’s no single assessment type that is all-encompassing that can completely define what a student is truly capable of doing from beginning to end. “Formal and informal assessment strategies each have strengths and weaknesses, so an approach that combines or balances the two is most likely to provide a thorough evaluation of children across their cognitive, emotional, social, and biological strengths and needs.”1 Despite its identified strengths and weaknesses, both assessment tools are essential in the hands of the teacher and their success in capturing an overall picture of the students’ actual evidence of learning lies in the teacher’s judicious use of these tools and the right skill to properly implement them.
1 Preschool Assessment: A Guide to Developing a Balanced Approach. Retrieved from http://nieer.org/resources/policybriefs/7.pdf.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Formal Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.ehow.com/info_8202078_advantages-disadvantages-formal-assessment.html.
Forms of Assessment: Informal, Formal, Paper-Pencil and Performance Assessments. Retrieved from http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/forms-of-assessment-informal-formal-paper-pencil-performance-assessments.html.
Informal Assessment in Educational Evaluation: Implications for Bilingual Education Programs. Retrieved from http://www.finchpark.com/courses/assess/informal.htm.
Informal Methods of Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/informal-methods-assessment/.
Reflective Teaching: Exploring Our Own Classroom Practice. Retrieved from http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/reflective-teaching-exploring-our-own-classroom-practice.
What are the Different Forms of Authentic Assessment?Retrieved from http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/litass/forms.html.