Assessment: Catching them ‘in’, rather than out

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Assessment: Catching them ‘in’, rather than out

Uhlolo:  Asizami kubabamba koko sizama ukubakha Yintoni umsebenzi wohlolo kwimfundo ephakamileyo? Abaninzi sele befikelele ekubeni baluthathe uhlolo njengedabi phakathi kwabo baphumelelayo nabo bangaphumeleliyo. Amaxesha amaninzi uhlolo luthathwa kancinci kangangokuba lude lubonwe njengemeko yokuthelekiswa komhloli nabo bahlolwayo. Ingaba uhlolo luyinto ekufuneka nje ukuba siyenze okanye luyinto engaphezu koko? Eli nqaku lithi uhlolo oluluqilima lungumhlaba ochumileyo wokwakha abafundi abafunda ubomi babo bonke.

Assessering: Trek hulle in eerder as om hulle uit te vang. Wat is die rol van assessering in hoër onderrig? Vir baie mense kom “assessering” op ’n stryd neer, met wenners en verloorders. Die hele onderneming word dikwels verskraal tot die assesseerder wat teenoor die geassesseerdes staan. Is dit iets wat ons eenvoudig moet aanvaar, of is daar meer dimensies te ontgin? Die standpunt in hierdie artikel is dat volhoubare assessering vrugbare grond is waaruit lewenslange leerders kan ontwikkel.

What is the role of assessment in higher education? For many, assessment has come to mean a battle with winners and losers. It is often narrowed down to the assessor vs those being assessed. Is it something we just have to get on with or is there more to it? This piece argues that sustainable assessment is fertile ground for developing lifelong learners.

by Juliet Paulse

The role of assessment in higher education is in need of reframing. For many, assessment has come to mean a battle or war with winners and losers. It is often narrowed down to the assessor versus those being assessed. Is it just something we just have to get on with, or is there more to it? I think there is more to it. Assessment holds potential for innovation, collaboration, discovery and ultimately sustainability. A move towards sustainable assessment could be invaluable in developing lifelong learners.

My personal journey has impacted my views on assessment. During my schooling and most of my undergraduate years, I had come to view assessment as something that was done to me. I felt like every test was a judgement, not on my ability to master content, but a personal judgement against me. It felt as if, somehow, whether I did badly or extremely well on my assessments, this mark or percentage would determine my worth. I was either elated by the outcome, or totally crushed by my results. As someone involved in education at various levels – learner, student, teacher, lecturer, mentor and assessor – I have come to understand that every assessment has the potential to lead to an opportunity for learning; an opportunity in any given field of study for growth, finding gaps, discovery, greater insight, understanding, making connections, self-reflection and setting students up for lifelong learning.


When I entered the world of teaching, I was in the privileged position of understanding why assessment was necessary. I genuinely wanted to see my learners succeed and to gauge where they needed assistance to understand and make sense of the subject they were learning. In my previous job a senior manager had used the phrase, “Catch them in, rather than catch them out”. The idea was to provide opportunities for people to show their best efforts in a given task. You would then be able to highlight the parts they excel in, in your feedback, whereafter you would strategise with them on ways to make improvements to their shortfalls. This transformed my view of assessment forever. I realised that assessment should focus on a collaborative approach, rather than an approach of assessor versus assessed.

I have found it beneficial to collaborate as it creates an opportunity for taking shared ownership, accepting responsibility, and setting goals and achievable outcomes. Yet, even in doing so, it remains a challenge to design, evaluate and follow assessment guidelines that enable intrinsic motivation of students to flourish. Assessments are important, but should not merely focus on passing tests for short-term success at the level of higher education. The role of the university in developing South Africa is firstly, to ensure high-level skills for employment; secondly, to produce new knowledge; and thirdly, to strengthen equity and social justice through social mobility (NPC:2012b:318). In order to achieve high-level skills, produce new knowledge and advance social justice we need citizens that can be successful lifelong learners. This will entail a shift to sustainable assessment practices, which equip students with skills that take them beyond their current field of study.


Boud and Soler (2016:401) assert, “The notion of sustainable assessment was developed to focus on the need for all assessment practices to equip learners for the challenges of learning and practice they will face once their current episode of learning is complete.”

It is evident that Boud and Soler (2016) view sustainable assessment as a means to develop and cultivate the concept of lifelong learning. Furthermore, Stellenbosch University’s new draft policy on assessment identifies sustainability as a purpose of assessment, views assessment as learning, and echoes the notion of Boud and Soler (2016) that assessment serves to prepare students to become lifelong learners, who will be able to judge their own performance.” (7.2 b.)

Sustainable assessment is firmly rooted in formative assessment, with a move from assessment of learning to assessment for learning (Boud & Soler, 2016:402). To this end, students are provided with the opportunity to make decisions and judgement calls on their progress. The responsibility for assessment is shared between the assessor and the student. Each is aware of the outcomes and goals that need to be achieved. Creating space for students to participate, collaborate and take ownership of their assessment process, further develops the skills of assessing themselves beyond their current space of learning.

Involve Students

As previously stated, the idea is to ‘catch them in, rather than out’ by providing opportunities for students to show their best efforts in any assessment task. The use of a rubric is a good example of providing such an opportunity. A rubric provides students with specific guidelines on expectations set for the task at hand. It enables students to put forth their best efforts in demonstrating their acquired skills and also indicates where there is room for improvement. One could even involve students in designing and developing their own assessment tasks. Sustainable assessment is more focused on the process and less on the product. The idea is that if the student can be successful in the process of learning, then achieving the product is inevitable.

Assessment remains a critical element of education as it is an essential part of ensuring that students are competent when progressing through a chosen curriculum. And yes, the issue of grading copious assessments, and capturing and tracking a student’s progress continues to overwhelm us. Even so, assessment should not be wished away by us or the student, as there is always a learning opportunity waiting with every task.




Boud, D. & Soler, R., 2016. Sustainable assessment revisited. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), pp. 400-413.

National Planning Commission (NPC), 2012 (b). National Planning Commission: Our future – make it work. Available at:


About the Author

Juliet Paulse

Juliet Paulse is currently an administrator in the Practical Learning Unit in the Faculty of Education of Stellenbosch University. As part of the Practical Learning Unit, she provides insights on the operationalisation and implementation of student placements and assessments, and various other aspects that aid in the overall development of students. She is passionate about seeing students develop into reflective teachers who model lifelong learning. Juliet holds a master’s degree in Policy and Governance from the University of the Free State (research topic: Governmentality and disciplinary power: Exploring constitutional values and democratic citizenship education in post-1994 South Africa). During her spare time, she volunteers at BottomUp, an NGO that helps learners develop critical reading and writing skills.



All views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not represent those of the Stellenbosch University.

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