Towards Autonomous Assessment
Assessment is usually about one group of people (teachers) making judgements about the performance or work of another group of people (students). It is an exercise of power. Perhaps one of the most significant shifts in thinking about assessment is the recognition of the need to be mindful about how that power is exercised. If it is exercised in a way which inhibits the individual from making judgements about their own performance or if it is exercised in a way which lessens the person's sense of self-worth then it is unlikely that learners will develop the ability to think for themselves, or to develop confidence in their ability to learn and in their ability to evaluate what they learn and who continue to learn when their college days are over. This illustrates an important element in thinking about assessment practices. It suggests we have to look critically at who is doing the assessing and to what purpose and ask ourselves in what ways the exercise of power and authority is appropriate. Broadening the range of assessors including students themselves presents both a response and a challenge in this context. Learning and assessment are traditionally seen as two quite distinct activities. The assumption has been that assessment follows learning. Assessment is something done to learners and to their learning. Students do some learning and then teachers do some assessing. Often the methods of teaching and learning are determined and decisions on the assessment strategy are made quite independently. In many forms of assessment, however, there is now the recognition that the method of assessment influences the learning in some way (Ramsden 1992).
Students are often required to spend a great deal of time in completing
major assessment tasks which culminate in a finished design, product or
performance. The processes and stages of development undertaken to
reach this end point are seen as producing powerful learning outcomes
before final formal assessments are made.
(Nightingale and Magin 1996: 173)
That students learn in and through completing an assessment task is increasingly being recognized. The development of self-assessment and peer