Schools and ministers urged to embrace assessment ‘renaissance’

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The world’s best performing countries have hit a “performance ceiling” academically because of antiquated assessment methods, it has been claimed.

A paper from education company Pearson says that a “renaissance” in the way schools and colleges assess pupils is needed to ensure that assessment systems are accurate, rigorous and fit-for-purpose.

It claims that existing assessment systems are no longer working and need better alignment with what is being taught in the curriculum.

The essay, entitled Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, written by Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education advisor, and Dr Peter Hill, an internationally renowned assessment expert, argues that schools are “on the verge of big changes” and that the use of new technologies would transform assessment and testing in education.

The authors list a number of tests that are revolutionising the way children and young people are assessed. These include adaptive tests, which can evolve in real time on-screen to give more accurate results as well as reducing the amount of time schools spend on testing.

Meanwhile, automated methods of marking exams will improve accuracy, reduce the amount of time spent by staff on marking, and combine student performance across multiple papers and subjects.

These methods, the paper argues, would also minimise opportunities for cheating or “gaming” the system.

It concludes that governments, schools and those within them need to prepare themselves for this assessment renaissance.

Sir Michael said: “We are about to see big changes in the possibilities of assessment as a result of technology. Current assessment systems around the world are deeply wedded to traditional testing and exams and, some might argue, are holding us back from potential reforms. We should seize the opportunity and not cling to the past.

“By using technology smartly, better assessment could improve teachers’ teaching, by giving them richer data. The biggest change created by the forthcoming assessment renaissance could be a vast improvement in teaching and therefore a big improvement in learner outcomes.”

Dr Hill added: “This renaissance will bring about a ‘rebirth’ of the core purposes of assessment.  That will lead to a much better alignment with the curriculum and with teaching and learning.

“Assessment is only one aspect of education but it is often one of the most influential and controversial and we believe that the transformation we want to see across education will be held up unless we release the power of assessment to bring about improvements in learning.”

Commenting on the report, Alison Rogers, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, said: “We welcome the challenge thrown down by the report’s authors to think about the new world view of what excellence in assessment should be, and the reminders of the size of the gap currently. 

“The opportunities presented by digital learning and assessment make individualised learning and feedback more possible. In this new ‘renaissance’ of learning and assessment, the teacher is less of an assessment operator and more the conduit for meaningful, continuous interpretation of the learner’s needs and potential.

“However, if as the report suggests, we are to free up teachers to do more and better formative assessment, then we also need to acknowledge the importance of investing constantly in the skills, expertise and confidence of teachers to undertake this task.”

   


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