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School-Based Assessment : East Meet West KL 2005 III

 The Epistemology of School-Based Assessment And Assessment For Learning In The Eastern Civilization: The Linkage to Current Knowledge and Practices

Jahja Umar, Ph.D Satya Buana Foundation,Jakarta, Indonessia


The term “assessment” in educational context could have many different meanings and often, it is used interchangeably with other terminology such as “evaluation”, “educational measurement”, “testing”, and “examination”. It is an elastic word that stretches to cover judgements of many kinds. However, there is one thing in common every time educational assessment is discussed: it always has something to do with information on learning and learning acquisition, which usually based on measures of what individuals know. It is to tell whether and what people have learned. The roles and purposes of educational assessment have not substantially changed throughout much of history, which are educational and occupational selection, placement, making certification decisions, and to promote learning. In many cases (e.g. Little and Wolfe, 1996), the word “assessment” is used broadly, to cover all judgements of educational performance which are used in individual or aggregated form, for one or more purposes and by a range of persons and institutions (Foreword, page x).

School-based assessment is a term usually used for the measurement of knowledge and skills of individual students, at school or classroom level, in order to obtain information on what they have learned as a result of their educational experiences. In this context, the assessment is sometimes labeled according to Scriven’s (1967) “formative” and “summative” evaluation. The term “formative assessment” is used when the purpose is to improve or develop teaching-learning processes, and “summative assessment” is used when it is for decision-making about the end result of the processes. However, again, the term is not used consistently. Brookhart (2001), for example, mentioned that some authors see all classroom assessment as formative and discuss summative assessments primarily in terms of external assessments (p. 153 – 154). In this paper, the author will use the term “school-based assessment” (SBA) for summative assessment done by the school particularly in regard with making decisions on certification and selection (as oppose to external high stake assessment), and “assessment for learning” (AFL) is used when the purpose is formative.

SBA and AFL in the Eastern Civilization

The most frequently cited formal assessment in the eastern civilization is the early Chinese civil service examination or selection. Certainly it was not a school-based summative assessment, neither was it formative. In the old eastern tradition, learning activities were usually take a form of boarding school in which students stay and live with their teachers at a location sometimes apart from the surrounding communities. Or, the learning activities were less structured or even an informal interactions between a student and his/her teacher. The long history of formal education in the eastern civilization mostly associated with religious schools especially Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim. Quite often, teaching of martial arts was an inseparable part of the school.

Under this tradition, a competency based approach or a principle of “learning for mastery” was strictly implemented. Undoubtedly the qualification of its graduates is virtually under control as intended, depending upon either student potentials or the capability of the teacher. All forms of assessment were internal and the purposes were for both learning and promotion/selection. Public recognition on the school will usually be gained when the graduates or the teachers win a local or national contest or competitions.
Schooling education in the Asian countries as it is today, is in fact a product adopted from the western civilization.

When the schooling education becomes a mass program and no longer in a boarding tradition, quality control and quality assurance activities were getting more and more difficult. At the same time, the need for standards becomes part of a modern world and needed to be set at both national and international levels. In this case, the developed western civilization have set up most of the standards and the certifications, which usually become international standards. Here, some countries in the east adopt standards from their former colonial country in Europe, while others try to develop their own. The school-based assessment is considered as an important part of quality assurance activities, while the external examination using a national or international standard is equally important because of the need for recognition and for survival in competitions which are part of any modern life.

In this regard, school-based assessment and assessment for learning are usually made comprehensive, while an external examination using a national or international standard is typically limited to a small number of subjects considered important for competition and recognition. Therefore, school-based assessments and the public examination are in fact, complementary. Neither one could substitute the other.

National Examination Or School-based Assessment?

In the last 30 years, there is a strong tendency to look at the school-based assessment as the only one that is needed. Many educationists considered that an examination driven learning activities could narrow the curriculum and reduce education into teaching a small number of subjects. In line with the development in education philosophy in which student is to be the focus of education, the phrase “teaching and learning” is replaced with “student learning”, and any high stake examinations tend to be abolished. Any form of learning activities which are not enjoyable to student is often considered as against learning. In its extreme, even the terminology “pass the exam” is taken out from education dictionary. In Indonesia, for example, certificate of competency/ literacy at the primary and secondary levels were changed into a certificate of completion. It took place for more than 30 years. As a result, variability in regard with quality of the graduates was getting higher and can not be measured. Recognition became a difficult matter at both national and international levels, not to mention the global competition.

The development in psychological theories also has its influence on the practices of educational assessment. For example, the situated perspectives of learning (Greeno, 1997) claimed that learning and development should not be viewed as progress along a trajectory of skills and knowledge but rather to be viewed as progress along trajectories of participation and growth of identity. He argued that “learning” should replace “knowledge”, “abstraction” to be replaced with “generality”, and that knowledge can not be transferred. In his view, measurement of knowledge and skills of individual is not important since “learning” always occur in group. In the other hand, the cognitive perspectives of learning (Anderson, Reder, and Simon,1997) commented that it is only a rhetorical language game is being played since Greeno’s claim can be true only if one believes that “knowledge” is not what is learned. It is entirely a matter of the definitions one chooses for “knowledge” and “learning”. The movement against testing might be rooted in the radical behaviorist like Skinner (1948) who wrote: “… Since our children remain happy, energetic, and curious, we don’t need to teach `subjects’ at all. We teach only the techniques of learning and thinking”.

It may be interesting to take Indonesian experience in regard with national examination as a case to look at. Prior to 1970, there was a national examination using items of quite high level of difficulty. All questions were essays. Students had to study very hard in order to pass the exam and the teachers did all their best since otherwise their students might failed. Schools were considered good when many of its students pass the exam even though it lack of resources.

Variability in the quality of graduates was small. In 1970 the national exam was abolished in the reasons of:
(1) mass education,
(2) national exam is expensive,
(3) more humanistic education,
(4) a very detail and highly structured curriculum could improve teaching practices, and
(4) school-based examination was believed to be more appropriate.

After 10 years, it was found that:
(1) quality of graduates was decreasing,
(2) university selection becomes a national and very high stake exam,
(3) variability of quality of the graduates was very high nationally,
(4) school is seen as a good one if it is rich and fully equipped,
(5) most of teacher training were in regard with teaching methodologies,
(6) most of student feel that they don’t need to study hard, and
(7) virtually all student pass the school-based exam..

Since 1981 there was awareness that the variability of quality should be minimize and the national exam should exist. As a result, since then in Indonesia there always a so called “national examination” but the decision to pass/fail the student is left to the school. It is hard to classify whether it is a national or school-based examination.

The variability is still very large, and there still a lot of people who think that learning is more important than knowledge and skills, because they believe that knowledge is not what is learned!

Recent development in the assessment methodology and technology could in fact bring compatibility between school-based assessment and the examination using national standard. Advances in the fields such as Item Response Theory, Computerized Adaptive Testing, and Item Banking, for example, could make the implementation of a national standard not limited to only small number of subjects. It is now possible to apply one item bank for both purposes: school-based assessment and national examination.

A national standard could even be applied at different levels of competency within each of the subject matter, with high degree of flexibility and efficiency. It is also equally possible to provide quick feed-back to teachers and schools in regard with student performance by item or topic. In other words, the role of assessment for learning could be well enhanced through the application of modern technology and methodology.

As a closing statement, I would like to quote a paragraph of Heyneman’s (1997) personal story with Jim Coleman: “ …It isn’t poverty which drives scores of U.S. students down……. But rather impoverished spirit. It is the general lack of desire to learn and this, in turn, is affected by public policy. What differentiates American children from other children in the world ….. is American public policy toward children. In general, children in the United States are provided with too much opportunity and too few obligations; too much choice and too few responsibilities. …. In addition, U.S. School children are influenced by a common assumption that curriculum has to be entertaining, and that there is a scarcity of opportunities to participate in adult roles” (page 29-30).

The statement above can be compared with proverb popular in the South East Asian countries such as (in Malays/ Indonesian): ..” Berakit-rakit ke hulu, berenang-renang ke tepian, bersakit-sakit dahulu bersenang-senang kemudian”, which means …”That some one has to give up what he/she could enjoy today if he/she want to have a great success in the future” This would best described the original philosophy of learning in the eastern civilization.


Anderson, J.R.; Reder, L.M.; and Simon, H.A. 1997. Situative Versus Cognitive Perspectives: Form Versus Substance. Educational Researcher, 26, 1, 18—21.
Brookhart, S.M.; 2001. Successful Students’ Formative and Summative Uses of Assessment Information. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 8, 2, 153—69.
Greeno, J.G.; 1997. On Claims That Answer the Wrong Questions. Educational Researcher, 26, 1, 5—17.
Heyneman, S.P.; 1997. Jim Coleman: A Personal Story. Educational Researcher, 26, 1, 28—30.
Little, A. and Wolf, A. (Eds); 1996. Assessment in Transition. Learning, Monitoring and Selection in International Perspective. Oxford: Elsevier Science
Little, A.; 1996. Contexts and Histories: the shaping of assessment practice. In A. Little and A. Wolf (Eds.): Assessment in Transition. Learning, Monitoring and Selection in International Perspective. Oxford: Elsevier Science
Scriven, M.; 1967. The Methodology of Evaluation. In R.W. Tyler, R.M. Gagne, and M. Scriven (Eds.): Perspectives of Curriculum Evaluation. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Skinner, B.F.; 1948. Walden Two. New York: Macmillan

Source : East Meet West KL 2005 , An international Colloqium For International Assessment APEC Paper 3
Tags: pendidikan, school based assessment

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