Nenty, H J (on Assessment)




H. Johnson Nenty, Ph.D.
Institute of Education, National University of Lesotho


In any society, education is the most efficient means of enhancing improved quality of life for everyone. Its mission which is to "lead forth" and "cause to develop" the potential of every child could be most effectively achieved if teachers are trained to exploit its rich and close etymological relationship with assessment. But unfortunately, though the results of several studies have shown that teachers spend at least a third of their professional time involved in assessment-related activities, and contrary to recommendations by professional organizations in education, many persons are certified to teach with little or no training at all no basic classroom assessment skills. Some teachers training institutions do not offer courses that impart such skills at all, while some make such courses optional as if assessment is an optional duty of the classroom teacher. Teachers incapacitated by such programmes lack the essential skills to "sit beside" a growing child to collect valid data or information with which to ensure valid exploration and identification of potential and the maximization of its growth and development. This seems to be important contributing factor in the observed trend of poor academic performance by learners in school systems in which such teachers abound.


In history, quality of education have been shown to underlie the rise and fall of civilizations and the corresponding quality of life. Each society resorts to education, in formal and informal setting, to ensure, and enhance their quality of life. No civilization, no nation, and no society can maintain a standard of living higher than that sustainable by its educational standard. If the quality of life of a nation cannot rise beyond the level sustainable by its educational system then the general downward trend in the quality of African education predicts a corresponding lowering of the quality of life of Africans. Nations that aspire for greatness, Japan is an example, lay the foundation for such aspiration through education.

1.1 Education

Education implies to "lead forth", and "cause to develop" that which is hidden or latent in every child (UNESCO, 1975). This implies the prompting of the mind, heart, and muscle in order to evoke and develop, to its maximum, the good out of each child (Nenty, 1991\92; 1997a). Following from these, education could be operationalized as the process of identifying and developing human potentials or identifying and ensuring desirable changes in human behaviour. Given that quality of life has a direct relationship with level of education (Amar, 1996), it would be maximized if the potential of every person in the society is identified and developed to a maximum.

1.2 Assessment

According to Murphy (1975) the "word `assess’ means `to sit beside’ or `to assist the judge’" (p.27). Following up from this, UNECA (1985) holds that "It therefore seems appropriate in evaluation studies to limit the term assessment to the process of gathering the data and fashioning them into an interpretable form; judgement (evaluation) can be made on the basis of this assessment"(p. 45). `To sit beside’ according to James (1994), suggests a reference to an individual learner. Hence conceptually, assessment involves sitting beside a growing child to observe, document, and describe qualitatively and quantitatively, his cognitive, affective, and psychomotor behaviour, and using the results as feedback to ensure valid identification of potential as well as maximum desirable growth and development on which terminal judgement will later be made (Nenty 1997a). In this light, while measurement is akin to a black and white photograph of the learner’s behaviour, assessment is likened to coloured movie with sound (Salmon- Cox, 1981), which is so designed that the on-going criticism of what it documents is instantly fed back to improve the pictures and sound being recorded(Nenty, 1997a).

Several operational definitions have been advanced for the word "assessment" (Wood, 1984; Izard,1992; Title, Hecht and More,1993; Messick,1994) but fundamentally as it applies to education, it is anything done to find out what knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes, practices or generally what behaviour a learner does or does not have, acquire, or develop, before, during, and at the end of an instruction, a period of instructions, or a course of study (Nenty, 1997b). The "anything done", includes: observing, interviewing, professional experience/judging; using questionnaire; classroom questioning; project assignment; class or seat-work; home work assignment; classroom testing; measuring; examination, etc. The results of assessment before enrollment or before instructions is to determining the behaviour including knowledge, skills, interests, attitudes practices, etc., of the child as input into, and the starting point for the educational or instructional process, and as that on which desirable changes are expected. The results of assessment during instruction or during the education process is to provide a regenerative or formative feedback to the child in all aspects of behaviour or performance in order to enhanced the likelihood of his succeeding at the end. It also provides feedback to the teacher and the administrator to enhance their professional skills. The results of assessment at the end of each instruction also serve the purposes of formative evaluation. That at the end of a period of instructions, or a course of study serve "to assist the judge". That is, it serves the purpose of summative evaluation. It is used to determine how much changes in behaviour or learning the child achieved, and whether this is enough to warrant his being promoted to the next class, selected, or his being awarded a certificate. Assessment therefore provides valid evidence of teaching and learning with which to inform the learners, the teacher, the parents, and the administrators; to facilitate improvement in teaching as well as in learning; and to certify that some required level of learning has been reached or has taken place (Izard, 1992; Nenty, 1997a). It also serves as a means of controlling the quality of education, its process and product.


It is the assumption of this paper that the quality of life of members of every society is significantly influenced by two factors:

(1.) the extent to which every child in the society has the opportunity to education; and

(2.) the quality of human development process in practice in that society.

Assessment has the potential to aid education in respect to both factors. According to Nenty (1997a),

an etymological analysis of education and assessment reveals a rich and closer relationship between the two process than is usually credited. Education has not been successful in accomplishing its mission of "leading forth" and "causing to develop" the potential of every child mostly because the relationship has not been effectively utilized....(p. 1).

It is generally agreed that teaching, especially in the low levels of education, is seen more as facilitating learning then merely transferring knowledge. That is, it does not just transfer knowledge it first of all prepares the learner to receive it, imparts the knowledge through instruction, and then follow up to ensure that it has been impacted or has been received. A teacher, in that case, is more like a farmer, who to ensure a good harvest, does not just sows the seeds, but first of all, prepares the land, sow the seeds, fertilizes and tends the crops, kills weeds and makes sure that the crops grow well. Seen from this perspective, teaching involves ensuring human growth and development through the process of instruction.

Each of the three-pronged process involved in teaching depends on assessment for good results. This could be likened to the place of assessment in the medical profession. For the medical doctor, it is based on his analysis of the results of several measurements like temperature, blood pressure, etc. taken on his client that he diagnoses the type of sickness and prescribes appropriate treatment. It is also based on the results of measurement that he monitors the progress of the patient and determines the duration or intensity of each treatment, as well as, decides whether or not to change the type of treatment. And finally it is based on the results of assessment that he determines the complete recovery and hence the discharge of his client. This is in an attempt to ensure improved quality of health.

2.1 Assessment and Identification of Talents

Assessment, if properly implemented, plays similar roles in enhancing quality of life through education. A teacher, another professional, is assigned the task of ensuring desirable changes in human cognitive effecive and psychomotor behaviour. His client are young members of the society who lack something which prevent them from behaving economically, socially, etc., desirably or contributing to the enhancement of the quality of life of his society. When one of these walks into a school, the principal or teacher needs to know the social, economical, educational, psychological, and behavioural background, or input characteristics of his client. The "sitting besides" which is literally not possible, is accomplishable in practice if for every child that enrolls at the primary school, detailed documentation of his in-coming behaviour is kept. That is gathered through observation, interaction, interviewing of the child and his parents, questioning, examination of previous records, etc., all his special skills, interest, inclinations as well as behaviour and aspirations are documented. These should serve as input into the very first or initial decision about education of the child in terms of his curriculum; teaching methods; psychological considerations, for example, motivation; which skills or special interest to encourage or given special opportunity to develop. For education to achieve some level of success in its first mission of identifying the child's potentials, it must fall back on assessment to document the entry behaviour as a guide to his education (Nenty, 1997a).

Without proper identification of entry behaviour, an inappropriate education process is likely to be used and this may lead to lack of motivation to learn among children, and eventually to their having to drop out of school, hence a wastage of human resources. Besides, for education to claim success at ensuring desirable changes in the child's behaviour it has to document every child’s entry behaviour to which it can compare the results of its efforts.

2.2 Assessment and Human Development Process

Quality of life is enhanced by efficiency in education as human development process. The level of this efficiency depends to a great extent, on the quality and effectiveness in the use of assessment by teachers involved in the development process. Like the medical doctor uses the results of assessment to guide treatment, the teacher uses the results of on-going assessment as the driver of instruction, or the steering wheel that guides and directs instruction in terms of method, pace, strategy, emphasis and motivation. The teacher gathers on-going classroom assessment information through methods like: oral questioning, observation, interaction, class work, homework, quizzes, projects, paper-and-pencil tests, discussions, writing samples, and learner self assessment or report, professional impression or judgement, etc. The results of the analysis of these quantitative or qualitative assessment data are used as input for the improvement of the on-going instructional process, and as feedback to the learner to ensure progress towards the desired objectives. In other words, during this actual process of human development, assessment information is generated and used in variety of ways to improve administration, teaching and learning, and thus to enhanced the likelihood of success by the learner. Thus assessment:

(1) provides a useful motivation, as well as a formative or regenerative feedback to the learner to ensure his progress towards success.

(2) provides feedback to the teacher with which to affect improvement in instruction; set realistic human development objectives; evaluate the degree to which course objectives have been met; provide opportunity to improve his professional skills; and provide counseling and guidance to the learner; and

(3) enables constant monitoring and formative assessment, through which the administrator keeps the quality of human development process on track;

Assessment has the most important function at this stage where human development is actually carried out. Without the direction or guiding light provided by assessment results, the teacher will merely be prodding in the dark. The process of "development" through classroom instruction, in order to be effective, must be guided by the results or on-going assessment or else it is bound to be fruitless to many learners. To a few it catches on; to most it does not. It is the later group that we usually brand as failures. However, it is the society that has failed, in the first place, to ensure proper "leading forth" and in the second place to ensure proper development of any identified potential through classroom instruction guided by the result of assessment, (Nenty, 1997a)

One could imagine what might happen if a medical doctor is not guided by the results of relevant assessment on the patient during diagnosis and treatment. Similarity, a lot of "damage" is done to our clients, the learners, when we try to develop their potential through an education process that does not start from them, nor revolve around them. For effective human development process, it is the results of assessment that guide any valid identification of potential, and also the development of potential through classroom instruction.

According to Amar (1996) "taking quality of life into account means starting from the parameters that define it ..." (p.5). Assessment during any education process designed to sustain and enhance this quality of life must take such parameters into consideration. This include the standard which constitute one of the parameters that define the quality of life. At each stage of the process of human development we must be guided by a conscious consideration of the standard implied in the quality of life we are intending to sustain and enhance.

Assessment exposes teachers to the different types of human cognitive affective and psychomotor behaviour, and provides them the methods and means of how to detect, develop, and assess each of such skills among learners. Traditional educational practices in Africa tend to emphasize the development of the memory level of human cognitive ability only. There has been a gross neglect of rich cognitive skill like application, analysis, and especially synthesis, which involves creativity and divergent thinking. But assessment, with its consideration of the totality of human skills, insists on the development and measurement of all such useful skills. It also provides for the identification and development of different desirable affective and psychomotor skills and behaviour.

2.3 Assessment and the Product of Human Development.

Besides "sitting beside" a growing child to collect unfolding information with which to guide the human development process, assessment also collect information with which to "assist the judge" determine the level of success of the development process and hence judge quality of its products. The society set up the education process for some specific purpose centering around the enhancement of the quality of life of the people. It follows therefore that the society has the right to expect some related results from the process. The questions here are, what is the quality of the products of the education process? And how well does these products suit the society’s needs? Assessment provides the information for answering these important questions.

Summative assessment information serves to provide answer to the first question. It should be noted that the products of any human or material development process cannot be better than the quality of its inputs and the effectiveness of the process itself. Such inputs include the quality of government policies as well as the quality and quantity of human and material resources made available to implement these policies. Assessment provides the data with which far-reaching decisions are made about the products of the human development process, the learners. This is mainly in terms of whether the learner has acquired enough desirable changes in behaviour to warrant his certification, selection, placement, promotion, etc. Certification, for example, implies that the learner has acquired adequate level of knowledge, skill, and practice or behaviour to enable him function effectively as expected in the society given the objective of the programme he went through. To satisfy such expectation from the society, assessment procedures and its results must be valid. Valid in two respects: (1) the assessed behaviour represent adequately all the learner was suppose to learn; and (2) the scores used to graduate the learner reflect or are sustained by the ability that was assessed (Nenty, 1996). Hence assessment provides the society with a sort of guarantee that those who have successfully passed through the different areas of learning are competent to perform the different jobs they will take up in the society.

Quality of life depends on both the quantity of members of the society whose potential have been developed, and on the quality of such development. The later, in turn, depends on the quality of the educational process in operation in the different human development institutions. The result of assessment serves as a metre rule with which the public determines the quality of the institutions. With these, it also monitors their progress and insists on improvement in standard and in the suitability of their products in terms of knowledge, skills, practice or behaviour demanded for the enhancement of the society’s quality of life.


Assessment as it is currently practiced in our schools have a lot to be desired and hence has not adequately enhanced quality of life through education. Its rich and close relationship with education has not been effectively utilized to help the later accomplish its mission of "leading out" and "coming to develop" the potential of every child. As practiced assessment plays virtually no role in the identification of the child’s input behaviour. It is rarely used to generate information with which to motivate and enhance learning, as well as improve teaching, through the diagnosing of weakness and formative feedback. It does not provide administration with valid information with which to monitor, in an on-going fashion, and fine-tune the human development process in order to enhance the quality of the product. Some of the reasons behind these unfortunate handicaps are:

grossly inadequate number of teachers in schools;

lack of test-related resources and facilities;

very low level of, or in most cases, complete lack of teachers’ competence in assessment;

non-involvement of parents and guardian in the assessment of learns; and

students perception of assessment as a foe instead of a partner in or facilitator of learning

In most, if not all African schools the teacher-pupil ratio is far in excess of that recommended based on results of research and experience. The expected ratio represent that beyond which a teacher cannot be effective. The high ratio jeopardizes teachers’ effort to do a good job, especially when it comes to assessment. It is not uncommon to find a class who is involved in no other meaningful assessment activity except the end of quarter test. Sometimes a teacher teaches two classes each with an enrollment of about 70 pupils. In such a case the size of the number of pupils is prohibitive of any assessment exercise.

The general trend of under-funding education among African countries has serious repercussions for the quality of human development process. The percentage of the gross national product allocated to education among African countries are far below that for the developed countries. And the later are countries who are already highly advanced in education, and who have instituted excellent human development process. This seems to be the reason for the widening gap in education, and development between the developed and African countries. In most African schools no financial provision is made for assessment, and hence schools cannot purchase stationery and other materials necessary for regular assessment.

For a teacher to ensure desirable observable changes in learners’ behaviour by the end of the course, quarter or year, he has to ensure changes at each step of the process that adds up to the observable terminal desirable changes. That is, during every lesson, or interaction with the learner, the teacher, besides ensuring desirable changes in learners behaviour, determines and documents, the degree and direction of such changes. This is done as means of: determining the appropriate next step to take in the process; where in the process he should do what to encourage and maximized learning; and as a means of taking stock of observed progress or non-progress for classroom decisions. All these involve assessment. In that case, learning or changes in behaviour is continuous, progressive, and cumulative. It does not take place only at the end of the quarter or year, but during each minute of every lesson. Hence for an effective human development effort, a valid attempt to assess the extent to which learning has taken place should be continuous, progressive and cumulative (Nenty, 1991, p.85).

In a detailed survey of what goes on in a Lesotho primary school classrooms, for example, Sebatane Chabane, and Lefoka (1992) found that "assessment constitutes a dominant category of teachers’ classroom activities" (Sebatane, 1994). And also, based on an extended analysis of classroom tasks, Stiggins (1991) reported that teachers spend a third to half of their professional time on assessment-related activities. In-fact, according to Nenty (1985), next to teacher’s skill on how to teach (method), and what to teach (content) is his skill on assessment. And assessment is a part and parcel of every teaching method (p.34). Hence one cannot be good at teaching if he does not possess some important fundamental assessment skills. The view is supported by AFT, NCME, and NEA’S (1990) contention that "student assessment is an essential part of teaching as good teaching cannot exist without good student assessment" (p.30). Unfortunately, in some teacher training programmes in African colleges and universities assessment courses are not offered for teachers trainees at all. In some, they are offered but as optional courses as if assessment is an optional role of a classroom teacher (Nenty, 1997a). Hence most teachers in African school lack basic knowledge and skills in assessment.

Most parents feel unconcerned when it comes to the progress of their children or wards at school. For every new child at school assessment looks on to the parents for detail information about the child. This should include his health, his areas of interest, strength, weaknesses, what motivates him, his special needs and aspirations, etc. Such information should be secured through their filling of an Enrollment Data Form, and through interview with the principal. Parents should be involved in an on-going effort at promoting the child’s progress, and should follow up any observed discrepancy or inconsistency in the child's trend of performance or behaviour with questions and interviews with the teacher and the principal,. Results of parental enquiries are useful assessment information for feedback for the improvement of learning.

Students or learners have the tendency of looking on assessment exercises as something the teacher does to them not for their own interest. They do not often see such exercises as a means to learning, but as a means of satisfying the teacher, and because of this perception, they do not often realize maximum formative benefit from classroom assessment exercises.


In any society, education with a mission to "lead forth" and "cause to develop" the potential of every child, provides the most effective means of enhancing improved quality of life for everyone. Just like material resources cannot be developed without first being explored and identified, human resources cannot be validly developed unless they are first identified. We cannot run away from the implications of the etymological meaning of education and yet hope to realize the benefits that accrues from it.

Assessment has offered to "sit beside" a growing child to collect and document valid data with which to ensure valid exploration and identification of potentials, as well as to generate information with which to maximize the results of the human development process. But because of lack of training or inadequate training, and very large class sizes, this offer is not utilized by teachers; because of inherent indiffirent behaviour of parents, this offer is not embraced by parents; because of lack of understanding, this offer is not encouraged by school administrators; because of ignorance, this offer is not appreciated by learners; and because of misplaced priority, this offer is not supported by government.

We cannot remain like the cat who, as an old saying goes, wants to catch fish but wouldn't want to wet his feet. For any educational system which is serious at attaining and sustaining a given quality of life, assessment provides a means through education for realizing such a dream. It provides education a means of identifying and differentiating the input behaviour of the "raw material" as a valid guide to human development process; it provides a means of ensuring quality control during the development process, as well as a means of determining the quality of its products.

It is through assessment that education, teaching, and learning are defined. We know these definitions are telling us that we are not doing a good job in any of these processes. Since we, Africans, are not alone in this planet, the performance of our educational system tends to push us further, and further backwards in the race to develop human and material resources for the enhancement of a better quality of life for the generality of our people.


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