Assessment fostering creativity and open minded thinking in higher
EDUCATION: The aim of this article is to reflect on the purpose of
assessment in higher education based on contemporary pedagogical
principles and to discuss means of putting them in to practice. As
students, in general, focus on the assessment as means of aligning their
learning process, it is important that the educators, construct them so
that students are able to develop their potentials to the maximum, and
face a rapidly changing socio-economic and technological environment
The main purpose of assessment, generally, in any course in a higher
education should be to provide accurate measures of each student's
ability to succeed in their future careers, and as a result, more
impotently though, as a good, creative human being in a rapidly changing
social, economic and technological environment. Such success is
necessarily achieved through quality, higher-order learning.
In psychological terms, it is widely accepted that a person's ability
to succeed in a manner mentioned above depends largely on his/her
intellectual capacity, provided that he/she is fostered in a truly
democratic and conducive environment. Such a notion necessarily implies
that an assessment of any course in higher education must measure or
reflect the intellectual abilities of students.
This is also the wide-spread social belief, incorrectly though, as it
does not give the necessary consideration to the whole teaching-learning
context in which the assessment or classification is done. What is
inappropriate here is not the social belief, but the manner in which the
assessments are conducted that does not do justice to the above belief.
In 1920s, Leta Hollingworth, a pioneer in the field of psychology,
highlighted a similar point by inferring that children who possess
intellectual quotients (IQs) in the range of 120-145 find,
comparatively, little difficulty in the usual education culture, while
those with intellectual capacities above this level struggle to survive
in non-conducive environments.
Further she inferred that the struggle becomes harder for students as
they deviate more towards the higher end of the intellectual capacities
spectrum and leaders of a society emerge from the range of 120-145.
Webb et al inferred that what Hollingworh said can apply equally well
to the current society as well, despite the fact that so much thought,
research and published work have emerged in the form of literature on
gifted and creative children and adults. It implies that the education
system in general, or the assessment criteria, is tailormade to cater
the persons that possess intellectual capacities in the above said
range, which got a high proportion of population compared to the higher
end of the spectrum.
However, research in the last two decades shows that population
belonging to the higher-end of the intelligence spectrum is much higher
than previously conjectured, and even identifies there could be a bump
in the normal distribution at this end. The above situation also adheres
to well-known Darwin's theory - survival of the fittest, a situation
most organisations attempt to avoid by enhancing equal opportunities to
both their employees and clients.
The simple task, as it may seem, of assessing students in education
leads to a more complex, social situation that results in social
injustice, disorder, and possibility of a chaotic and unethical
environment. As a consequence, the importance of understanding the
purpose of assessment and using the assessment criteria appropriately to
serve the right purpose is the most important responsibility befalls on
the educators. If the purpose is different from what is suggested above,
then it has to be clearly stated and made public without creating
confusion in the society.
Specifically, the prospective employers and scholarship providers
base their judgement of how well a candidate would succeed in a task is
evaluated on the assessment or grades he / she carry with him/her, to a
very large extent.
It is equally important to understand, as Webb et al brought out, the
implications of misdiagnosing the reactions of gifted and creative
persons to inappropriate educational environments, including assessment
criteria that create anti-intellectual social situations. Such
misdiagnosis, or wrong interpretations, of reactions leading to such
situations does enormous damage to a democratic society at large.
Role and responsibilities of assessment
The role of assessment, as an educator, includes invoking
reliability, validity and fairness as a whole. Reliability in marking
addresses the fact that when the same marking is done at a different
occasion, it yields the same outcome. In a broader sense, if marking is
done by a different maker using the same principles and guidelines, or
more standard accepted principles in higher education, it should
produce, ideally, the same outcome.
The above outcome could be identical to an accepted level only if the
two markers share a common and widely accepted understanding of what the
process of learning is. For example, to bring out an extreme scenario,
if one marker focuses on deep learning while the other focus on surface
learning, the outcome would, most likely, be different. That is to say,
as more recognised in higher education, the extent to which a particular
standard is achieved by a student is evaluated. Adhering to such
standards results in being fair to all the students being marked, thus
improving the validity of the marked assessment.
The issues of validity and fairness arise more when two or more
makers are involved. The perceived level of standards across the markers
requires being equivalent to achieve fairness and validity. As a measure
of validating the perceived level of marking among a number of markers,
sample remarking by different makers of already marked assessments can
be done. Following sample remarking, appropriate adjustments or
moderations can be inflicted. The implications of such measures of
improving reliability, validity and fairness are increase of confidence
in students about marking.
Applying scales and standards
A very common grading scheme, such as HD, D, C, P and F, used to
grade students based on their ability to conform to higher-order
learning. To elaborate, using Blooms taxonomy, students who showed
abilities to analyse, synthesise and apply their knowledge gained a
higher grade depending on the extent to which they demonstrated doing
Put differently, a student who mainly showed of possessing knowledge,
with very less indication of abilities to apply, analyse or synthesise,
got relatively lower grade, possibly a P. All students generally show
abilities to perform obtaining knowledge, comprehending, applying,
analysing and synthesising to varying degrees of combinations.
The grades were awarded based on to what fraction a student was able
to demonstrate performing at each of level described above. This
necessarily means that the evaluation was based on the quality, such as
ability to analyse and synthesise getting better rewards. The culture
that existed for many years in education, in which the ones who had
access to more information emerged winners, is getting obsolete.
Such a culture has a historical reason where accessing information
was comparatively a hard task. However, despite the fact that accessing
information has become increasingly easy, the above culture of assessing
students' ability to access and reproduce them at a examination has not
changed. This is more evident by the growth of the Internet as means of
providing easy access to information.
Key issues of marking, grading and giving feedback
It is necessary to differentiate that, sometimes, what students have
conceptualised as the learning process may not be what is expected in
higher-order learning. As a result, it could be the approach, or the
attitude, of the student towards learning that needs to be changed for
better performance, rather than categorising it as an inherent
incapability of students.
When setting up the assessment, different learning styles of students
need to be given consideration. For example, students who tend to write
slowly and think in an elaborate manner, as is the case with
visual-spatial learners, need to get attention.
Time for each question must be allocated taking into account that
some students need extensive thinking time on the problem, planning time
for the answer and writing time.
All mini assessment components of an evaluation process must be
targeted at the highest levels of Blooms classification, thus
aggregation of marks of each of these components correctly reflected the
students capacity in higher-order learning.
This approach contrasts from assessing students at different levels
of Blooms taxonomy and aggregating them together. Such an approach has a
serious drawback that those students who are good at applying, analysing
and synthesising knowledge, do not emerge with a higher grade, as they
do not necessarily do well on the tasks that evaluate other-end of the
The underlying principle here is that when students can achieve
highly when focussed at the higher-order end of spectrum of Bloom's
taxonomy, they need not be tested at the other end of the spectrum.
Also, based on the quality of the answers they provide for questions /
problems targeted at higher-order end, a certain percentage can be
All of which can then be aggregated to correctly assess on how well
students engage in higher-order learning. On the other hand, if the
questions were targeted at the lower-end of the spectrum, as research on
gifted and creative education shows, the students belonging to this
category will struggle with them though they can do well on the
questions /problems that are targeted at the other end of the spectrum.
In addition if aggregation of marks for questions based on two ends of
the spectrum is done, the validity of the assessment or the grade
The final mark of an assignment is decided on the aggregate of all
sub components evaluated to the extent to which higher-order learning
has been practised. That is to say, when all the assessment components
are focused on higher-order end of the Bloom's taxonomy, how far a
student's answer departed from this end of the spectrum, is evaluated in
order to decide the mark. The importance of providing feedback to
students on assessments is highly regarded in higher education today.
The feedback that will be given to a student who produced a poor
assignment, based on the aforementioned principles, is to emphasis on
the higher-order end of the Bloom's classification. That is he/ she will
be encouraged to practise more and more higher-order learning focusing
on application, analysis and synthesis of knowledge.