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You are here: Home > Online Articles > What Do We Know About Self-Assessment?



What Do We Know About Self-Assessment?

By Gordon Eldridge, TIE Columnist


What do we really mean when we talk about self-assessment? In a review of recent research on student self-assessment, Heidi Andrade from the University of Albany notes that the term is used to “describe a diverse range of activities, such as assigning a happy or sad face to a story just told, estimating the number of correct answers on a math test, graphing scores for dart throwing, indicating understanding (or the lack thereof) of a science concept, using a rubric to identify strengths and weaknesses in one’s persuasive essay, writing reflective journal entries, and so on.” But which among these activities is beneficial to learning? And how can we maximize the benefits? Heidi Andrade’s research review of 76 recent empirical studies summarizes what we currently know and what we still need to learn about student self-assessment. What were the specific findings and recommendations of the review? • Andrade’s definition of self-assessment is “the act of monitoring one’s processes and products in order to make adjustments that deepen learning and enhance performance.” Andrade notes the importance of including the purpose of self-assessment in the definition. It must generate feedback that promotes learning. • Without an opportunity for adjustment and correction, there is no point in self-assessment. Formative uses of self-assessment should therefore predominate. • Global assessments of competence in a given area do not provide feedback sufficiently specific to generate self-efficacy in the way that self-assessments of particular task types do. Consistency • Summative self-assessments tend to be inconsistent with teacher judgements. In a study where students were told their self-assessments would count towards their grade, there was no relationship between teacher and student assessments. • When self-assessment is associated with the purpose of furthering learning, self-assessments are relatively consistent with those of external evaluators. • Consistency increases when self-assessment is explicitly taught as a skill. Student Perceptions • Younger students tend not to understand that the primary purpose of self-assessment is to improve learning. • Attitudes toward self-assessment can become negative when it is used summatively. • The more actively engaged students are in formative uses of self-assessment, the more positive their attitudes towards it tend to be. Achievement • All studies of self-assessment used formatively indicate a positive impact on learning. • Studies of formative assessment used summatively indicate mixed results. • One researcher notes that self-assessment processes that rush to judgment and fail to engage students in the complex thinking required in comparing their work to criteria can undermine learning. • Self-assessment is more likely to support achievement if it is based on concrete, fine-grained, graduated criteria that allow students to become sensitive to small changes in skill. This sensitivity can allow for incremental adaptation as students work towards a goal. Self-regulated learning • Self-regulated learning can be defined as learners setting specific goals and monitoring and managing their progress towards those goals. The practice of self-regulated learning is moderately to highly correlated with achievement. • To develop self-regulation in students, teachers need to create structured opportunities for student self-monitoring throughout the learning process, rather than just having them assess the products of learning. Self-assessment should focus on both process and product. What do we still need to learn? Andrade notes that questions still remain about how the characteristics of the task being assessed and the nature of the criteria being used affect the process and its impact. She also notes that we still know little about the internal cognitive and affective mechanisms that affect self-assessment processes. What is clear, however, is that self-assessment based on well-written, fine-grained criteria, used formatively and including specific training for students on both how to self-assess and how to use that assessment to plan next steps, is an exceptionally valuable tool in our pedagogical toolkit.

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