National Assessments Part 2: The Differences Between National Examinations And National Assessment

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In our last week article, we indicated that examinations are designed to test the learner, whereby the interest is in finding out how much each individual learner knows and can do. in the case of Botswana, national examinations are administered at the end of key educational levels of primary school, junior secondary school and senior secondary school.

On the other hand, national assessments, sometimes called national surveys are designed to test the system. They try to find out whether the educational system as a whole is delivering what it is intended to. Because all aspects of the educational system cannot be evaluated at the same time, national assessment only focuses on one aspect at a time, say wanting to know how teacher qualification is the related to learners’ performance.

The goals of conducting either is very important in determining content and design of the tests. The main goal of examinations is either for selection or certification, to progress to the next higher level especially where there is limited capacity which cannot absorb everybody else, as is the case with senior secondary level in Botswana. Examinations are conducted in a shorter period of time hence covers a narrower content universe than national assessment. In a national assessment, learners do not necessarily write the same tests as is the case with examinations.

Before embarking on any national assessment, it is critical that the goal be clearly articulated. It should be guided by what we want the results to tell us about our education system. Naturally, national assessments are conducted for purposes of diagnosis, licensing, monitoring and evaluation. As such, they can be conducted at any time as opposed to national examinations. They focus on a specific aspect of the education system at a particular time, say wanting to know how the teacher qualification is related to learner performance at the selected level.

National assessments can be conducted at any level, including kindergarten. However, due to issues of costs and other logistics, a few schools are systematically selected to take part. Furthermore, sometimes not all learners in the selected schools may take the tests. One class out of three in a selected school may take the tests. The frequency of national assessment is determined by a number of factors. It may be repeated on yearly basis, or every five years. Note that a country can have a series of national assessments either at different levels for different purposes/goals.

Tests are administered in both national assessment and national examinations. However, tests for national examinations are predominantly paper-and-pencil designed to discriminate between individuals hence include many items of difficulty known to discriminate. Tests for national assessment are of various formats, including multiple-choice performance-based such a conducting a laboratory experiment or playing a musical composition, and portfolios showing samples of work over time, hence to some extent involve learners in their own learning.

The associated grading and interpretation of the national examinations tests is norm-referenced. That is, the learner’s performance is compared to others, and scores ranked from the highest to the lowest, whereas those of national assessment is criterion-referenced, whereby learners’ performance is measured according to a particular standard or criteria that has been agreed upon.

One important aspect of national assessment is giving quality feedback to all stakeholders to help improve the educational attainment, whereas national examinations has minimal feedback to improve learning.

Yes, it’s possible!

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