Assessing learners: A pedagogic resource

Assessing learners: A pedagogic resource

Durairajan, Geetha (2015)

New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.

(Pages 114)  ISBN 978-1-107-54328-7 (Paperback) ₹130.00

Geetha Durairajan brings together several decades of research and scholarship in the areas of evaluation and materials development in her latest book entitled Assessing Learners: A Pedagogic Resource. The book is aimed at not just English Language teachers, but also other teachers who use English as a medium of instruction. The epigraph to the book contains a pertinent and pivotal quote in Tamil, written by Vazhikatti, laying the roadmap and emphasizing the crucial role of a teacher who needs to strike a balance between reward and punishment, and the significance of evaluation. “…To decide whether feedback should be/the stick that raps or the hand that guides”.

The book is part of a series called All About Language Teaching, which aims to fill the gap for teachers who have limited or no access to in-service or online courses. The books in this series are designed to be authentic “self-help books”, as each book has an easy-to-grasp conversational style, garnished with a number of practical examples. In an average Indian classroom, most teachers tend to fall back on traditional methods of summative evaluation, with a very low degree or complete absence of constructive feedback to the students. In Assessing Learners, Durairajan, who is also the series editor, offers reasonable solutions to fruitfully traverse the perpetually tricky fields of testing and assessment.

Divided into nine chapters, the book specifically addresses significant concerns of testing and evaluation at various levels of learning. The first chapter titled “Evaluation Outside Formal Education” covers aspects such as evaluation implied in likes and dislikes, judgmental evaluation of others and evaluation that enables learning. This is followed by a section titled “Something to think about/do”, which is common across all chapters. This chapter assumes added significance by virtue of the fact that it clarifies the very notion of evaluation and situates the term in its broader context in the real world, even outside the classroom. Peppered with amusing illustrations which accompany apt examples, the jargon-free language of the book is a refreshing feature, meant to make the average teacher comfortable about using the book to enhance their knowledge and testing methods. The activities/questions suggested in the “Something to think about/do” section stand out as they encourage associations with everyday life and act as gentle prompts to explore the various aspects of effective learning.

The third chapter titled “Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation” delves into an area generally viewed with suspicion and disinterest by the average teacher, perhaps owing to little or no familiarity with proper and simple methods to administer and record CCE. Apart from explicating the scope and methodology of CCE, Durairajan manages to demystify the role and applicability of CCE in various contexts. Chapter five onwards, the book moves into more practical aspects of testing and evaluation. Talking about the “Purposes and Types of Tests” in chapter five, Durairajan liberally shares examples from other subjects such as geography, mathematics and history to illustrate the different types of tests—diagnostic, achievement, proficiency, entrance and placement. The seventh chapter titled “Evaluating Student Progress Using Tests and Examinations” reiterates the necessity to create balanced tests by striking just the right balance between different areas that have been taught, keeping in view the varying levels of difficulty. Dealing with the setting, administration and evaluation of public and school-level examinations in particular, this chapter explores the finer nuances and methodology of testing in these cases.

The last two chapters seek to negotiate perhaps the two most ambitious areas of evaluation—“Qualities of a Good Test: Validity, Reliability and Practicality” and “Alternative Assessment Possibilities”. In the current context of an average Indian classroom, where the actual teaching time is shrinking, where a greater emphasis is laid upon industry exposure and co-curricular activities, the question paper becomes a site of contestation if it is unable to strike the right note with respect to the difficulty level. A case in point is the extensive media coverage given to the question papers administered at the class X, XII and undergraduate levels in which the headlines in mainstream dailies report news such as  “students unhappy with the (subject) paper”. It is clear that the focus seems to have decisively shifted from testing effective learning to mere “doablity”, for want of a better word, of the question paper, and how “scoring” the paper is!

In the final chapter, Durairajan suggests more meaningful modes of alternative assessment such as short presentations and seminars, open book tests/examinations, assignments and projects, portfolios and peer-assessment as the way forward. According to her, this would not only reduce stress with regards to the high stakes, end of term summative assessment, but also offer a more creative and interesting way of keeping both the learner and the teacher engaged in improving the quality of the teaching-learning process. “Assessing Learners”, with its attractive yet simple layout, interesting illustrations, and easy-to-understand conversational style deserves kudos for bringing home and demystifying vital aspects of testing and evaluation.

Kalyanee Rajan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Evening College. Her research areas include English language teaching, Shakespeare studies, translation studies, Indian writing in English and translation, classical Indian poetics and Dalit Literature.