This blog will cover three topics of traditional assessment: teaching to the test, self-assessment, and a final summary on the issues of traditional assessment practices.
Teach to the Test
Another concern with traditional assessment is that teachers will teach to the standard outlined in the assessment but not necessarily to the quality of the work itself (Ajjawi and Bearman 2018). This practice is called, “teaching to the test”. Such a concern, we recognize, has merit in our own experience in figure skating which has two necessary test paths in the United States that all athletes must follow if they want to participate in competitions at different skill levels. Unfortunately, the tests themselves do not necessarily reflect the standards of performance at the competitive levels those tests represent and many coaches (ourselves included) see such tests as a hindrance and resort to the quickest means possible to get our students through them so we can focus on the ‘stuff’ that really matters. Fortunately, US Figure Skating recognized this issue and, as of the 2018 season, has adapted the test structure to allow athletes to test based on their score at a competition- a much needed change!
There is also risk of teaching to the test with the IJS system because each level has distinct requirements and ‘big elements’ that earn all the points. Even though the system clearly promotes creativity (it is a GOE bullet point), most skaters do the same spin positions and combinations (e.g. the level 4 sit spin at juvenile level) to perform to the standard in the easiest way possible. The illusion, the sit side, and sit back positions all tend to be ‘called’ consistently and the 8 rotations is an easy feature to judge (either you do 8 or you don’t) so the safe bet is to teach to the test – do what clearly and consistently gets the level 4. The risk in aiming for the creativity bullet point is that it may take some tweaking from competition to competition to get credit for the creativity and the actual spin position (for an interesting discussion on risk versus reward for creativity and standards please see Robert Nelson’s book: The Creativity Crisis).
Rate of learning assessment could also be considered a variation of teaching to the test. In this case, the standard is a speedy rate of progress. This could encourage coaches to resort to whatever strategies they can think of to avoid mistakes or any potential roadblock that could hamper progress. They try to create practices that are smooth and error-free, which (as we discussed in blog 05 of this series) misrepresent what the athlete is actually learning. This results in inaccurate assumptions about the athlete’s actual skill level in that learners tend to overestimate future performance if they practice under performance-focused conditions (Simon and Bjork 2001). In other words, if your practice is designed to make things feel easy, you may be in for a surprise when you go compete!
Self-assessment: a much-needed characteristic of the 21stcentury workspace
In traditional assessment the coach conducts the act of assessing which makes them the active agent in the assessment. Meanwhile, although the athlete’s performance is assessed, they are the passive agent of the assessment itself. The assessment provides feedback to adapt practice in some way and it is usually the coach who responds to the assessment to make such changes. The athlete merely complies. In this way, the coach now becomes the active agent of the learning process and the athlete is the passive agent- even of their own learning.
Experts argue that for learners to truly become active participants in their own learning they must develop the ability to self-assess (Boud and Soler 2016). According to research, learners self-assessment accuracy is weak to moderate and does not improve over time (Lew, Alwis et al. 2010). Yet, self-assessment is perhaps the most vital form of assessment not only for athletes, but for any individual to succeed as a life-long learner. Life-long learning is now considered one of the most important characteristics needed to thrive in the 21stcentury workspace (Dawson, Ajjawi et al. 2018). Therefore, the process of self-assessment in sport becomes a learning tool for life and this is exactly what makes sports participation so valuable.
Final Assessment on Traditional Assessment
To summarize the research: traditional assessments don’t accurately represent the past nor predict the future; they tend to be overcomplicated or too simplified and are not consistently interpreted between individuals; they don’t acknowledge details that are not easily explained through words; they break performance down into separate parts that, when judged separately, do not represent the quality of the whole; they promote teaching to the test; and potentially reward the very conditions that do not trigger long-term learning. Finally, traditional assessment does not make the athlete the active agent of the assessment nor of the actual learning process. These are some very important points to digest.
Questions for parents
Please take time to deeply think about the question(s) below and provide sincere answers. The questions do not have right or wrong answers but are meant to trigger your thinking about the assessment process.
- Has the current wave of young teenagers performing triple axels and quadruple jumps set a new standard of success in figure skating? Must all athletes expect to achieve these milestones in their early teens to be successful?