Assessments: When Scoring Is Boring

Assessments: When Scoring Is Boring
March 30, 2021

Do you hate tests? Do you find yourself looking to see what you scored, perhaps relieved that you got most of the answers right? Here’s the thing. Scoring is boring! Especially when it comes to your learning objectives. How can it be okay to only know 80% of your learning objectives if ALL of them are, you know, the actual LEARNING OBJECTIVES!

Why do we assess learners in the first place? Well, an assessment determines if students have gained sufficient knowledge or have become proficient in a skill. (Those pesky learning objectives!) It also provides instructors with the chance to give feedback and adapt future instruction based on learners’ performance and serves as a tool for review.

In days of yore, when all learning was done in a classroom in a one-to-many situation, it simply wasn’t practical to expect a 100% pass rate of an assessment. The very real difficulties in addressing the multitude and variety of remedial needs across a classroom or workplace of individual learners meant it was not realistic to expect 100% when teaching, coaching, or managing in a ‘one-to-many’, synchronous situation.  One would run out of time. Instead, we tended to settle for an 80% pass rate on a formal assessment and consider it ‘good enough’; even when there were clear deficiencies in the learner’s understanding or performance.

Whether in school or on the job, we are assessed continually. Most of this constant assessment is subjective and informal with no tracking or scoring at all. We either learn and move on or we try again. Yet in scored assessments that allow a pass rate of less than 100%, we are saying “It’s okay you don’t know EVERYTHING you’re supposed to know. You can move along now, and it’ll be alright.”

This is super important to consider in the context of continual learning, with so many more options now readily available to use with learners. Having learners use self-conducted assessments opens opportunities to change a standard from ‘Less than X% is acceptable.’ to ‘Only 100% is acceptable.’ Appropriately designed assessments complementing online modules, distributed documents, online meetings, and even face-to-face interactions or tasks have the potential to support a 100% = completion standard. In other words, we do away with scoring altogether and focus on the goal of accomplishing each learning objective.

There is rarely any value in allowing for anything less than a 100% pass rate for assessments with today’s learning tools and asynchronous learning methodologies. Choosing a passing standard that is less than 100% is assuming that some of your learning objectives aren’t actually relevant. More so, it assumes that those non-relevant objectives could even be different for everyone. That just doesn’t make sense as an acceptable standard for key learning objectives, does it?

So how do you drop the scoring and make each objective pass/fail? Anyone with an instructional or coaching background knows that the key to effective learning is having clear learning objectives. Answers to questions such as:

  • What is it exactly that we need a learner to know or how to do?
  • What is it that the learner should understand?
  • Why is this information important for the learner?
  • What behaviors need to change?

Your learning objectives SHOULD be non-negotiable, the most important goals for that particular topic or learning initiative. Showing an understanding of ALL of these SHOULD be the standard; not 80% of them. The question is how to support that across many learners with different backgrounds, learning styles, buy-in, etc. That’s the challenge (and the reward) in applying effective learning.

Now we have our key learning objectives, and we have some ideas on how or what the learner needs to show to presume understanding. This has all been built into an assessment of some sort, which may be in any number of online or offline formats and activities. For our purposes, we are going to focus on online assessments; a format that can arguably complement just about any learning activity whether online or offline, synchronous, or asynchronous, and, in doing so, make it formal, tracked training. Consider what the key objectives really are, assess for them in meaningful ways and potentially from different angles. Make these objectives relevant by expecting that an understanding or proficiency be shown for each of them.

For each of the questions/exercises in your online assessment, what resources (content, information, media, etc.) do you have that would provide them with the right answer? Your assessment should navigate them to the relevant content (it can be as much or little as needed) when an incorrect or partially correct answer or action is given.

Once the learner has reviewed the resources and is ready, they should be able to return to the same question/exercise to try again. Build your assessments/activities in a way where the learners are fully supported with the remedial resources necessary for them to eventually pass the assessment; even if it takes them multiple tries to do so. Once the assessment question is answered correctly, they move on to the next one… continuing this process until assessment of each learning objective is completed.

Let’s sum it up. It’s quite simple really. Don’t use scored assessments! Use formal (tracked), supported (remediated), asynchronous assessments built with navigation where only by completing ALL of the assessment question/exercises is a pass/completion obtained. By doing so, every learner, regardless of previous knowledge, understanding, or other factors, is held to the same standard… but with the opportunity to receive the necessary help where and when needed at the exact time they need it.

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