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Exams should determine ability to perform specific tasks

By Lydia Mucheru | January 22nd 2017

The curriculum reforms envisaged by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) inevitably implies reforms in our modes of educational assessment. While assessment has been defined as “a machine for reasoning about what students know, can do or have accomplished based on a handful of things they say, do or make in particular settings”, education assessment is the process of determining the extent to which learners have acquired specified knowledge, skills, values, attitudes and abilities.

Generally, assessment helps to diagnose and monitor progress of a learner, provide feedback to learners, parents, teachers and curriculum designers and implementers, selection, guidance on future courses, certification and promotion to the next progression levels.

Competency-based assessment therefore is determining the capability to apply a set of related knowledge, skills and abilities required to successfully perform critical work functions or tasks in a defined setting. The aim of competence-based assessment is to establish the extent to which the learner has acquired the expected competencies with a view to informing interventions for further acquisition and mastery of expected skills.

In every curriculum implementation, assessment is expected to measure the extent to which learning objectives have been achieved and provides the basis for advising the teacher on pedagogical methods and deliberate intervention. In competence-based assessment, the focus is on the extent to which competency (ability to carry out a certain task) has been acquired as opposed to laying emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge of the concepts.

The assessment needs to use a variety of ways to collect information about a learner’s learning and progress in all subjects. It should be a continuous process and be recorded all the time. The feedback provided should lead to positive action that is helpful to the learner.

Competency-based assessment sets to gather evidence demonstrating what a learner can perform according to a specific standard.

Job situation

The learner can be provided with a challenge and allowed to show how to resolve the problem. Competency assessment is based on the principle of assessing people using their knowledge and skills on the job situation. The strategy aims at providing a way of building the skills and knowledge that learners require to perform identified tasks after going through a learning experience.

Assessing competency in a learning situation is necessary to ensure learners are both confident and competent in their learning process. Individuals are considered competent when they are able to consistently apply their knowledge and skills to the standard of performance required in the workplace.

In Mathematical literacy, for instance, the focus is basically on the learner’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded mathematical judgments and to engage in mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s current and future life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen.

The learner’s capacity to analyse, reason and communicate ideas effectively by posing, formulating and solving mathematical problems in a variety of domains and situations is paramount.

Under the current curriculum reforms, competency-based assessment is a key reformation to facilitate adoption of formative assessment practices that promote diagnostic approaches to enhance learning and improvement of learning outcomes. This is a departure from current assessment practices that seek to compare learners with each other (norm?referenced) and shift towards assessment practices that seek to collect evidence and make judgment on the extent and nature of progress towards a learner’s achievement.

Competencies are assessed over a period of time. The emphasis ceases to be high stakes examinations in favour of formative assessment. The teachers document the learner’s achievement, which shows the progress of the learning outcomes identified in the learning areas using a rating scale. The teacher needs to be trained on how to come up with criteria for assessment of competencies.

Dr Mucheru is a senior curriculum development officer at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

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