Assessment, assessment, who's got assessment

So I was supposed to run a workshop entitled: “Build Better Assessments to Meet Learning Objectives: How to write your course assessments so they are valid, reliable, and effortless to grade!” Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want to take that either. My major beef with that title is it has the word “assessment” in it.

The word “assessment” is horrible. Who wants to be “assessed”? I don’t. To me, being assessed sounds like you are being summed up as to whether you are worth giving the last tank of oxygen in the spaceship.

To me it conjures up that first day in middle school gym in the locker room when my eyes met with a classmate called Betsy S. whose pool locker for swim class was next to mine. She’d clearly reached puberty when she was born and was all 1970’s tan and naturally blond and busty and gorgeous, and she clearly forgot that I existed the moment she looked away the way a goldfish forgets where the edge of the fishbowl is (not actually true, but I was in the middle of writing about myself and forgot what I was writing about). Meanwhile I was still years away from puberty, a year younger than everyone else, twenty pounds underweight and friends only with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. (I also ended up failing swimming class because… it’s me.) That is a bad assessment. Or, for a slightly less emotionally damaging example, arguing with this one guy for five minutes to go out to get a bite after an event where I met him as he looked me up and down saying he got free food at his dorm. I finally bribed him with a free meal at a nice place and dragged him to dinner; I married that guy. (I also ended up failing marriage.) Or standing in front of six frowning departmental chairs and the deans defending my graduate thesis. (Okay, I did pass my thesis defense but it was still scary!) To me that is an assessment. Not some multiple choice quiz.

Of course, while you are a student you get in the mindset that every grade is an assessment of your value as a human being. But that doesn’t help anyone. It certainly doesn’t help student anxiety.

Assessment in the pedagogical circles just means testing, but nOOOoooOOOooo we have to say assessment even when we talk to people who don’t know how to pronounce pedagogy. (I’m still not confident with that one.) Because it’s no fun if you can’t use big words that most people don’t understand. Trust me I know, I’m a doctor. Exophthalmometry, anyone?

Here at the college where I teach part-time “Assessment” is a big buzz word and it makes all the faculty and staff insanely anxious and angry for reasons I don’t totally grok yet. I’m assuming they didn’t ever have a locker next to Betsy S. so I figure it is because they fear getting extra work, being judged, submitting to public ridicule, receiving a demotion or being fired.

It’s all ridiculous because when we talk to colleagues about assessment all we are trying to find out is whether our students are actually learning what we are trying to teach them. And hey, it’s hard to teach students that are in the mindset that passing a quiz is just a chore, that they don’t really have to learn anything, and if they do poorly it only means that their instructor hates them personally.

So I would like to replace the phrase “assessment” with any word or phrase that is sort of the same but not scary. Like: verification, evaluation, measurement, puppy, sunflower or cheese curds. Maybe I should go on a public service campaign to de-mystify the word assessment so that everyone feels better about it. I doubt that will happen, but maybe I can get some balloons or flowers to pass around. That usually puts a smile on faces? Anyone?

I will now assess what you have learned from this blog post.
An "assessment" is:

  • ___A. a critique of everything that defines you
  • ___B. an evaluation by a set of standards
  • ___C. a list of your shortcomings and why you fail
  • ___D. a consensus by your betters that nobody likes you

The answer is B. It's always B.


Today’s Norwegian word is evaluering.

evaluering is either the Norwegian word that means assessment or it is a new service that joins up a variety of outlet stores online to get you the best deals:

Join our e-value ring!

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