The Value of Pre and Post Assessments

The fall semester began with a pleasant and surprising validation of a long-held educational belief of mine that “learning how to think straight, as opposed to what values and opinions to hold, is crucial to education.” (Walter Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.)

As an integral dimension of my introductory materials in my social science courses ( thinking critically and creatively and introduction to ethics), the students complete a pre-assessment during the second class, and again they complete a post-assessment during the second last class.

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The following is a Pre/Post comparative analysis of a student from a recently completed thinking critically and creatively course:

“After doing the self assessment again, I have already found that I have improved tremendously! My first score overall was 158, but now by re-taking it, I earned a 208 on the assessment! I discovered that I needed to improve on dealing with other people’s opinions, and thinking before I speak.

I have found that I have achieved my goals that I set at the beginning of this class, which were: 1. to think before I respond; and 2. to be more open to other people’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions. I know I do this more because I find other people’s opinions to be very beneficial, and giving me more insights and alternative perspectives that are different from and challenge my own.

By re-taking this assessment again, I can truly see that this class has given me good insight on why it is important to listen to other people’s thoughts and opinions, even if they  oppose my own ideas.”

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This pre/post assessment comparative analysis process allows students to highlight their “errors” of thinking which might inhibit the quality of their learning throughout the course of the semester. They identify their errors of thinking, summarize their results, establish a goal or two, and establish a plan of action to measure their success at the end of the semester. As a student, am I prone to jump to conclusions?  Do I make sweeping generalizations? Am I an either/or thinker?  Do I live in a world of  relativism or absolutism? Do I have a bias for or against change? Am I  guilty of unwarranted assumptions or of mindless conformity?  Do I exhibit a biased view of the evidence or do I judge by a double standard?   If so, then I am challenged to tweak my erroneous thinking, and to become a more objective critical thinker in my personal or professional lives.

These are the tools the students are encouraged to  carry with them throughout life, and more importantly, to use them because they took the time at the beginning of the course to think through how they think, thereby putting into practice more positive and productive modes of the disciplined mind. One of my favorite and perennial metaphors of learning is Plato’s Cave – moving from the cave mentality of the world of shadows into the world of light looking for interconnections, becoming an active listener, evaluating one’s listening, evaluating one’s reading, relating content to one’s personal and professional lives, seeking to understand rather than to memorize for the sake of passing a test, using writing as a way of understanding, and routinely asking questions, for one good question is worth a thousand answers.

Your students deserve the very best, but we also know that “when the student is ready to learn, then the master will come” (Confucius). When will the students know they are ready? Have them assess themselves at the beginning of the course, and again at the end of the course so that the academic journey will be one of openness, processing, understanding, enlightenment, understanding which are some essential ingredients of a disciplined mind. No more cave mentality for me.

Roger J. Vanden Busch

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