К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012
Автор: Свиридов Е. Г.
In this article,
we shall attempt to speak about education from the academic point of view. The
concept is so commonplace that even a schoolchild will be familiar with the
word. However, as it is always the way with general concepts like this, one
would struggle to give a definition straightaway. The books define education as
a means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from
one generation to the next. In a more specific sense, education is a formal
process, by which people deliberately transmit accumulated knowledge (be it
science, customs or traditions) from one generation to another.
That definition is
true and we shall agree with it, because trying to define it anew would be like
trying to reinvent the wheel. Although, there is a thing to add. These days,
education is not only a process but an asset as well. And one of the most
valuable assets, for sure. Not only valuable but also the most sought after.
Not everybody looks to buy real estate in Spain, but everyone tries to get education.
One can set up an interview, but it is well known anyway. Ones you get
education, possibilities expand greatly. As Horace Mann said, “A human being is
not attaining his full heights until he is educated”. And that is true in every
So, people strive
to get education, but it is not the certificate itself that makes your life
better, it is knowledge you get during study, and not only knowledge; skills,
those you acquire during study, skills which allow you to be a professional. No
teacher will tell you answers to all questions, but teach you how to find one.
Knowledge and skills, both are equally important, only having the former and
the latter a person can be called well educated professional.
Here we come to
the notion of quality. Quality is, as defined by ISO 8402-1986, “the totality
of features and characteristics of a product or service that bears its ability
to satisfy stated or implied needs”. And as it is with any other goods, you
want to make sure that what you get is of a good quality. But if the quality of
other goods is easily assessable, it is not really true about education. One
can always buy a microwave and have it replaced or refunded the next day if
doesn’t function properly. It would have been wonderful if you could do it with
education. Alas, you can’t, so, even if education and microwave are both goods,
there is a far cry between the two, so they must be approached absolutely differently,
and assessed differently.
Let’s try to compare
education with services. Let’s take the most basic one and the most widespread
– cleaning. You can’t tell if the cleaning will be good or not when you hire a
janitor, they all say they are good. Same is with Universities, each and every
promise to give superior education; we know that not everybody lies, don’t we?
But with the former, you can asses results on the next day, whereas with the
What I was trying
to say is that education and its quality can have very long term results. One
more thing to remember is that it is determined not only by the provider but
also by the recipient. It is not only about how well you are being taught; it
is also about how well you learn. The latter is often more important than the
former. So it is not only the quality of teaching that should be assessed, but
the quality of learning, as it plays major role in the whole process.
And this is quite
easy to prove. Just recall you school years, or university course. Everyone has
an example where a very good teacher (subject is not important ad hoc) failed
to give knowledge to a student unwilling to learn, i.e. having no intrinsic
motivation. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from inside an
individual rather than from any external or outside rewards. But that is more
often an exception, especially in a university, where people are generally more
motivated to learn and the subjects are more interesting for them, being close
to their life’s interests and vocation.
It is a teacher’s
job to keep students motivated, by creating extrinsic motivation, which, as
opposite to intrinsic, is motivation that comes from outside an individual.
But, at the same time we have to make sure that they “digest” the knowledge
provided properly. And that is where assessment comes in. Assessment is a
complex system so let us define it as a system.
speaking, classroom assessment consists of two chief types of activities:
collecting information on how much knowledge students have learned (measuring)
and judging about the competence of learning (evaluation). Both the measurement
and evaluation aspects of classroom assessment can be achieved in different
ways. To determine how much learning has occurred, teachers can, for example,
have students take exams, respond to oral questions, do homework exercises,
write papers, solve problems, and make oral presentations. Teachers can then
evaluate the scores from those activities by comparing them either to one
another or to an absolute standard (such as a “5” equals 90 percent correct).
simply assigning numbers to certain attributes of students, according to a
rule-governed system. For example, we can measure student’s level of
mathematical reasoning by counting how many problems were solved correctly, or
check students spelling by counting the number of mistakes made. In a classroom
or other group situation, the rules that are used to assign the numbers will
ordinarily create a ranking that reflects how much of the attribute different
people possess .
involves using a rule-governed system to make judgments about the value or
worth of a set of measures . What does it mean if we say that a student has
answered seventy five out of one hundred grammar test questions correctly?
Depending on the applied rules, it can either mean that the student has learned
the body of knowledge well and is ready to proceed further, or, vice versa, it
can mean that the student has gaps in knowledge and requires additional
But then again,
why is it necessary to assess student’s learning? Well, the first, and the most
obvious reason is to provide a clear and useful summary of how well a student
meets learning objective. When testing is done for the purpose of assigning a
letter or numerical grade, it is often called summative evaluation since
its primary purpose is to sum up how well a student has performed over time and
at a variety of tasks .
Second reason to
assess students learning is to monitor their progress. Every teacher wants to
know if his or her students manage with the pace of learning and have understanding
of the covered material. It is always possible to adjust for students going
“faster” or “slower” than average, and it is better to be done sooner than
later. Because the purpose of such assessment is to facilitate or form learning
and not to assign a grade, it is usually called formative evaluation.
A third reason
follows from the second. If a teacher discovers that a student has difficulty
keeping up with the rest of the class, he will want to know why to determine
the most suitable course of action. This purpose may lead to create an
assessment (or to look for existing one) that can provide specific diagnostic
A fourth reason
for assessment is the fact that it has potentially positive effects on various
aspects of learning and instruction. As Terence Crooks points out, classroom
assessment guides students' "judgment of what is important to learn,
affects their motivation and self-perceptions of competence, structures their
approaches to and timing of personal study (e.g., spaced practice),
consolidates learning, and affects the development of enduring learning
strategies and skills. It appears to be one of the most potent forces
influencing education. Accordingly, it deserves very careful planning and
considerable investment of time from educators. Many of the skills and
attitudes that are goal of education take years to develop, and their
development can be undermined by lack of consistent support from them in the
educational experience of the students" .
So, as you can
see, role of assessment in learning is hard to over-estimate. And as our
discussions with teachers showed, all of them understand why assessment is to
be performed. Typical teacher can spend about one-third of his time engaged in
different types of assessment activities. Yet despite the time spent assessing
student’s learning, it is a task that most of the teachers dislike and many do
not do it well. One of the reasons for that is little in-depth knowledge of
Just as assessment
is multifunctional in the classroom, teachers have several ways to measure what
students have learned. The choice depends, of course, on the stated objectives.
Objectives can be classified in terms of two broad categories: knowing about
something (for example, past simple is used to tell about past events, pronouns
are used instead of object’s name) and knowing how to do something (for
example, how to form past simple, how to use pronouns). Numerous methods use to
measure both. One we would like to talk about now is test.
And as it often
happens with languages and translation there is a huge difference between what
is meant by a word in English and Russian. Once I translated a meeting between
English-speaking Australian engineers and Russian-speaking process engineers,
which lasted for about two and a half hours, and almost hour and a half was
spent discussing what each party understands by “cold commissioning” and which
tasks are to be performed during that period. And same may happen with the word
“test”. In English, “test” means an examination, trial or assay.
As mentioned by
Gilbuh Y., term "test" is not clearly defined even in psychology. One
of the most general definitions of psychology test is: “classified for
monitoring and description of individual’s behavior using a scale or conceptual
system “. 
Such a polysemy
can easily lead to inaccuracy, and sometimes even simple quizzes or training
exercises can be called “tests”, which is not true, because tests, when being
made, have to conform to certain rules. Definitions of “test”, found in
national literary sources are various, and sometimes contradict each other. Let
us look at just a few of those:
defines test as short, technically simple trial, providing equal conditions for
everybody, having tasks susceptible to quantitative accounting, and can signify
a development stage of given function with given testee. 
In A. Mayorov’s
opinion, test is a tool, consisting of qualimetrically adjusted task system,
standardized procedure, and predesigned result processing and analysis
procedure, used to measure qualities and properties of a personality. 
test as experiment method, and defines it as control task, held in equal
conditions, with its type and duration related to objective factors, and
results can be quantitatively assessed, being an indicator of learning process
Just whose idea
was all this testing? In ancient Greece, Socrates tested his students through
conversations. Answers were not scored as right or wrong. They just led to more
dialogue. Many intellectual elites in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. cared more
about finding the path to higher knowledge than producing a correct response.
Today, educators often hold up the Socratic method as the best kind of
the rise of testing an inevitable outgrowth of expanding technology. As goods
and services are delivered with greater speed and in higher quantity and quality,
education has been forced to pick up the pace.
have many sources. In imperial China in the A.D. 7th century, government job
applicants had to write essays about Confucian philosophy and compose poetry.
In Europe, the invention of the printing press and modern paper manufacturing
fueled the growth of written exams.
By 1845 in the United States, public education advocate Horace Mann was calling for standardized essay
testing. Spelling tests, geography tests and math tests blossomed in schools,
although they were rarely standardized.
At the outset of
the 20th century, educators began to experiment with tests that took shortcuts
around the old essay methods. French psychologist Alfred Binet developed an
intelligence test about 1905. Frederick J. Kelly of the University of Kansas designed a multiple-choice test in 1914. Scanning machines followed. Many Americans
accepted these tests as efficient tools to help build a society based on merit,
not birth or race or wealth.
As for Russia, pedagogical science, developed in the beginning of 20th century, accepted
tests as objective control method. But after decree of Communistic Party
Central Committee «On pedagogical distortions in the educational system of
peoples education commissariat » (1936) not only intellectual, but even progress
test were abolished. In the middle of ХХ century, testing reappeared in soviet
pedagogic as control method, many authors, referring to experience of western
schools, were speaking up black and white for or against testing, without
considering not only subject specifics, but even multiple interpretations of
the definition of “test” itself.
In republic of Kazakhstan, testing became prevalent after 1995, when after decree of
Education Ministry “On implementation of testing forms for accreditation of
Higher Education Institutions” universities were proposed to go over to tests
for knowledge evaluation.
But no matter the
definition or history, test remains a method to evaluate student’s knowledge,
and as any such method, has its own advantages and disadvantages. And not each
test is a good test, but only one made with consideration of requirements to a
test and when conducted, students are not allowed to communicate.
Tests are better
used for mass knowledge check in a department or university. To make such large-scale
checks more effective, it is always better to use computer technology, standardized
answer sheets etc. that allows quick collection and analysis of data. And when
we speak of final test, it is better to be held with a person who was
instructing students on that very subject absent.
Test can be more
objective than traditional forms of examination, with results being independent
of examiners’ personality. Test results are easy to evaluate and calculate.
Number of students taking the test at the same time can be bigger compared to
traditional forms of examination. It is also worth mentioning more positive
motivation of students as the assessment is not subjective and there issue “bad
luck” or “lucky hit” with pulling a exam paper is disposed of.
Results of testing
are more representative due to unified procedure. Various tasks can be included
into the test, which increases quality of control and allows performing overall
assessment. Tests are more practical, valid and reliable.
distinction of a test from traditional, e.g. written, exam is stimulation of
cognitive activity. That is one of the major peculiarities of a test, each has
a master form prepared, which allows students to compare their answers to the
master form and correct his study.
And last, but not
least, is change of teacher’s role. He ceases to be just a “punisher”, whose
job is to give scores and control. He becomes more of a tutor, helping students
and guiding them. This new role helps to improve emotional environment greatly.
The reverse of the
coin would be the complexity of creating a good, reliable and valid test. For
it to be the near-ideal examination method, test should be made in compliance
with all the rules and regulations for a test, which is very difficult.
This may sound
antinomy, but test can also decrease cognitive activity, as there are
ready-made answers provided and the test itself is aimed at result. One more
thing worth mentioning is that students can involuntarily memorize wrong
answers, especially if the test is very complex.
supervenes from the previous, and here I would like to quote a friend of mine,
PhD in Engineering, who was lecturing in University of Queensland. What he said
is that “… a test allows to check the knowledge of fact, whereas to be a
specialist, you cannot do only with facts, it is more about whether you can
think critically and be able to solve problems”. That is especially true about
engineering, but also valid for language proficiency.
One of the main
arguments, that the adversaries of testing supply, is that a test is always
good for a person sitting it, because if you do not know the correct answer,
you always have a second chance, which is guessing. Test based exam can be
often turned into a guessing game, and even a poorly performing student can
discard at least two obviously wrong answers, which leaves him with three to
choose from (if we take multiple choice test with five answer options). And
that is a very high chance to make a good guess.
So the test is not
the ideal method of examination, but it can be a very good one, when correctly
applied. But there remains and issue with standardized national test, which
caused lot of dispute when first appeared. The debates have dwindled since
then, but the issue remains. The biggest issue, which is on the surface, is the
validity of tasks within those tests. There were numerous reports and rumors of
course, of many and more questions just being unreasonable, hard to understand,
or having no or more than one correct answer. They say there is no smoke
without fire, but we can just brand these test as invalid on the basis of some
rumors and reports, not proven with facts. There is a detailed study going on
at the moment which would, hopefully, help reveal all doubts.
But there is one
thing about standardized test which is true, and which was mentioned many times
during my discussions on this matter with University teachers. They all say
that standardized tests, being result oriented, as all tests are, make
education process aimed towards the test itself. Teachers complain that the aim
of the educational process is no longer telling students about, let’s say, philosophy,
teaching them wisdom of the past, but to supply them with a set of facts
sufficient to pass the Intermediate State Examination test. The Examination
influences University rating, and if it is not high enough, teachers risk to
suffer displeasure of the administration. Therefore, they do their best to make
sure students pass the test. And is you imagine that some of the answers
claimed to be correct in the test are actually wrong, teachers would be giving
their students wrong information just to make sure they get the highest score
possible in the test.
Test, as any other
examination method, remains a tool for assessment. And as any tool it can be
more or less efficient given the task it is used for. But as any other tool,
when improperly used it can do more harm than good. But let us not jump to
hasty conclusions, the more detailed study will allow weighing all pros and cons
to make an outcome beneficial for the education in Kazakhstan.
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Biehler & Snowman, Psychology applied to teaching, 8/e, Houghton Mifflin
Terence Crooks, The impact of classroom evaluation practices on students, 1988.
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школьников. // Сов. педагогика, №10, 1963.
А.Н. Мониторинг учебной эффективности. // Народное образование. - 2000. - №1.
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эксперимент в системе методов исследования. - Воронеж, 1976.
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012