Preparing For A Renaissance in Assessment
The fundamental premises of personalised learning have been a part of the writings of educators for decades but have become a realisable dream in recent years, thanks to the advent of new digital technologies. What does personalised instruction look like in practice?
- First and foremost, it means putting the individual student at the center of the learning process and expecting them to achieve high standards.
- Second, it means better knowledge of learners, including not only detailed information on the specifics of what they already know but also about more generalised competencies, aptitudes, interests, aspirations and motivations.
- Third, it means learning goals that are specific to, and developed with, the awareness and involvement of the learner.
- Fourth, it means giving learners greater discretion in the learning activities and resources in which they will engage and adjusting teaching strategies to individual learners.
- Finally, it means expecting learners to take greater responsibility for their learning, to be more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and to become actively engaged in the learning process.
Next-generation learning systems will assist the teacher in bringing together all the components needed to generate personalised instruction, including planning tools and a rich array of designed instructional materials, all specifically connected to relevant curriculum learning goals.
At its core, school education is about deciding what students need to learn (the curriculum), about learning and teaching and about assessment (monitoring student progress). Of the three, assessment is the lagging factor and often sits uncomfortably with the other two, many of the reasons have to do not with the assessments themselves but with the uses to which they are put.
Preparing for a renaissance in assessment
In the case of formal assessment programmes created for the purposes of certifying student achievement, or for accountability purposes, these changes offer the prospect of significantly addressing some current limitations, providing assessments that are more able to:
- accommodate the full range of student abilities;
- provide meaningful information on learning outcomes;
- accommodate the full range of valued outcomes; and
- motivate improvement efforts and minimise opportunities for cheating and ‘gaming’ the system.
For assessment carried out as part of the ongoing process of learning and teaching, these changes offer exciting prospects too:
- a new generation of classroom-based learning and assessment activities capable of reliably assessing a much wider range of outcomes and generating instant and powerful feedback;
- assessment as an integral and vital part of sophisticated next-generation learning systems that will enable a new generation of empowered teachers to deliver personalised learning.
How new thinking and technologies can help transform assessment
1. Assessments can accommodate the full range of student abilities:
Use of adaptive testing to generate more accurate estimates of student abilities across the full range of achievement while reducing testing time
2. Assessments can provide meaningful information on learning outcomes:
a. Online environments to facilitate:
– the administration of multiple versions of the same test in order to obtain information on performance across a much wider range of the curriculum
– the collection and analysis in real time of a wide range of information on multiple aspects of behaviour and proficiency and
– more immediate, detailed and meaningful reporting to specific stakeholder groups, such as via smartphone/tablet devices and through the creation of e-portfolios
b. Advances in the application of data analytics and the adoption of new metrics to generate deeper insights into and richer information on learning and teaching
3. Assessments can accommodate the full range of valued outcomes:
a. Automated marking to overcome obstacles to the more widespread use of essay and other open-response format questions
b. Platforms to support the delivery of a new generation of assessments specifically designed to assess deep learning and a range of inter- and intra-personal competences and character traits
4. Assessments with integrity can be used in ways that motivate improvement efforts and that minimise opportunities for cheating and ‘gaming’ the system:
The adoption of (1) more cumulative approaches to approaches to assessment for selection purposes, with opportunities to re-sit; and (2) intelligent accountability systems that utilise multiple indicators of performance, that are designed to incentivise improvement and that avoid the creation of win–lose consequences for stakeholders for outcomes not fully under their control
5. Assessments that support students and teachers in making use of ongoing feedback to personalise instruction and improve learning and teaching:
Sophisticated online intelligent learning systems to integrate the key components involved in effective instruction and to support a new generation of empowered teachers in reliably assessing a much wider range of outcomes, using instant and powerful feedback on learning and teaching to deliver truly personalised instruction.
3 elements of digital innovations in school systems
As Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly argue in Alive in the Swamp (2013), digital innovations in school systems are likely to require simultaneous action in relation to three elements – system change, pedagogy and the technology itself. Governments, systems and school leaders need to ensure that they have grasped this key point conceptually and that they encourage the collaboration that will enable all three angles to be worked on simultaneously. Often this will involve building consortia that pool expertise.
Hill, P. and M. Barber (2014) Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, London: Pearson.