A renaissance in assessment?

The end of year is a time where the focus of most teachers and students is on the summative assessments we incude in our education process. These forms of assessment have been with us for decades, and changed little despite significant change being experienced in other areas of our system, including pedagogy, technology etc. The video above is one of this year's Ten Trends from CORE, which makes the case for new apporaches to assessment

Assessment14The argument for re-thinking assessment is not new, but while it has been debated for some time, there has been little done to act on this thinking. "The existing exam system is unable to distinguish between test performance and knowledge and does not lead to genuine progress", according to a leading educationalist reported in the Times Education Supplement (TES)

What we need is a massive re-think, a revolution in our approach – and a new report titled "A Renassance in Assessment" authored by Sir Michael Barber and  Dr Peter Hill provides a thought provoking response. The report is critical of current testing regimes for focusing on a narrow set of low level skills. The authors criticize an over-reliance on grades that reveal little about what the student can do and call for “validated learning progressions” with efficient processes for collecting and analyzing data and easy-to-use assessment tools.

In contrast to current state testing systems, Barber and Hill suggest assessment should:

  • Accommodate the full range of student abilities
  • Provide meaningful information on learning outcomes
  • Accommodate the full range of valued outcomes
  • Support students and teachers in making use of ongoing feedback to personalize instruction and improve learning and teaching
  • Have integrity and that are used in ways that motivate improvement efforts and minimize opportunities for cheating and ‘gaming’ the system.

There's a lot of excellent reading in this report – much of it supporting what I've noted in the Ten Trends video, and also reflecting the thoughts of other educators such as Fullan and Hammond, Wilhoit, and Pittenger, and echoing the content of a report on the Opportunity to Lead released in March this year. 

An important thing to mention here is the role that technology will play in our future thinking about assessment.  It's great to see the Qualifications Authority in New Zealand making moves towards online assessments, something we need to support and encourage – but there's a danger here that it could simply be seen as a substitution approach, with online tools replacing the traditional pen and paper for exams. 

Barber and Hill recommend the use of adaptive testing to generate more accurate estimates of student abilities across the full range of achievement while reducing testing time. They note that online environments facilitate, “The collection and analysis in real time of a wide range of information on multiple aspects of behavior and proficiency,” as well as, “More immediate, detailed and meaningful reporting to specific stakeholder groups, such as via smartphone/tablet devices and through the creation of e-portfolios.” 

I believe that 2015 may well be a year in which we see some bigger steps taken towards the renaissance in assessment that this report describes. I'll leave you with some of the quotes from the report to whet your appetite…

assessment quotes

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