Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kinds of Assessment (Part II)

Of course, you can always consider other attributes of assessment when differentiating between the different kinds. You can consider the kind of assessor, the perspective of assessment, and the intention behind assessment, for example. This last is quite different from mere purpose.

1. Differentiated by assessor

1.1 Self: if the assessor is the person or institution being assessed, there is of course an opening for charges of bias. What people don't realise is that there is almost always bias; the real problem is groupthink or inability/refusal to resist bias.

1.2 Other, human: if the assessor is another human, then assessment is subject to indeterminate bias. No two humans assess exactly the same way; even the same human will assess differently under different conditions.

1.3 Other, machine: at least, machines tend to be consistently biased.

2. Differentiated by perspective

2.1 Internal: if the assessment is carried out within the same institution or group, the advantage is insider knowledge leading possibly to more useful, detailed, and relevant assessment — the disadvantage is insider knowledge leading to the exact opposite.

2.2 External: if the assessment is carried out from outside the institution or group, the advantage is that it looks more objective — the disadvantages are that lack of objectivity (if present) is harder to discern, and that feedback (if required) tends to be vague and less useful.

2.3 Subjective: if the assessment requires a personal standpoint (i.e. the assessor is the subject and the assessed is the object) then obviously all assessors will differ slightly in standpoint.

2.4 Objective: if the assessment has an enforced, pre-determined, external benchmark with no subjective choice required of the assessor, and the assessment is mechanical in a deterministic sense, then it is very reliable and accurate. Only the validity of the assessment is likely to be problematic. Note that the more realistic or complex the assessment is, the more unlikely a valid objective test can be made.

3. Differentiated by intention

3.1 Quantitative justification: some assessments are designed to convert a complex concept into simply measurable numbers. This is a highly debatable, occasionally politically-motivated practice.

3.2 Data consolidation: some assessments are designed to collect potentially useful data, and the candidate is not told that this data may be used for purposes beyond the explicit ones. This is an ethically dubious practice.

3.3 Normative ranking: some assessments are made so that a convenient ranked list can be made of all assessed candidates. Since assessments are of limited dimensions and are not supposed to contain interpretation (that's for evaluation), this practice is philosophically dubious.

3.4 Other intentions: there are as many intentions behind assessments as there are forms of assessment, but most of them lead to gratification, money, power or sex (just like crimes do). It's quite possible that assessment might lead to none of these, but if you think about it, society is generally complicit in using assessment in such ways. Sad.


Well, I hope you who are reading this enjoyed my somewhat offbeat take on assessment. Some of it, I'm aware, was more true than we pretend; some of it less true than we believe. Most people wouldn't know how to assess assessment, though. Heh.

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