The future of educational assessment?

David Hawley explains how the IB Middle Years Programme makes use of e-assessment

Although we live in an increasingly digital age, the integration of educational technology into large-scale assessment (like GCSEs or A-levels) has been frustratingly slow. Today’s students use a wide range of digital technologies at home and at school. But when it’s time for higher stakes end-of-course assessments that lead to registered qualifications, out comes the paper and pen.

Progressive schools are making developments in the integration of technology in day-to-day teaching and learning. Yet, even well-equipped and technologically proficient schools can stumble when it comes to digital assessment. More often than not, they rely on banks of selected response questions (multiple choice) or short fill-in-the-blank answers, response options that provide students with precious little scope for critical and creative thinking. In the classroom and at larger scales, these one-dimension assessments tend to focus on a very narrow range of knowledge and skills. They reveal little about what today’s technologically aware students know and can do.

Contemporary adolescents have grown up with tablets, video games and a rich array of interactive social media. They deserve academic assessments that value what they already understand

In their essay Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, Dr Peter Hill and Sir Michael Barber note important changes in assessment that can help to overcome some limitations of current practice. Visionary educational leaders like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are beginning to develop interactive assessments that someday may be able to make valid and reliable judgments about students’ ability to work effectively with each other. The International Baccalaureate is launching a new model for assessing students’ achievement in its signature Middle Years Programme (MYP) that includes ambitious on-screen examinations.

Assessment strategies in the MYP are diverse, ranging from carefully-defined classroom tasks (for more performance-oriented subjects) to an extended personal project that students plan and complete independently. For other courses (sciences, mathematics, language and literature, humanities and social sciences, and interdisciplinary learning), students complete two-hour on-screen examinations.

MYP examinations push students to go beyond the rote memorisation of disciplinary content. The exams focus instead on scenarios in which students must use knowledge and skills to analyse unfamiliar situations. Students are challenged to connect what they have learned with what they might learn next, make predictions and take action to see what happens, collect data, analyse results, and apply big ideas to solve unstructured real-world problems.

Technology facilitates every step of MYP eAssessment delivery, providing examinations that are not only valid and reliable, but also manageable and cost-effective. The greatest impact of technology, however, is on the content of the exams themselves. Digital design makes it possible for students to engage with images, visual texts, videos, animations and complex models. Candidates can create, manipulate and make decisions about how to manage data. On-screen tools support candidates working in a language that might not be their first or best language. Individualised adaptive technologies ensure that the examinations are accessible to students with special needs.

In today’s knowledge society, the world of education is beginning to catch up to with rapid pace of change reflected at home and in the workplace. Contemporary adolescents have grown up with tablets, video games and a rich array of interactive social media. They deserve academic assessments that value what they already understand. Schools today are starting to develop assessments that measure what matters for tomorrow’s world. The power and impact of digital assessment is clear for young people who will live in societies that are ever-more complex, interconnected, and overflowing with cheap and easily-accessible information. We are only beginning to unleash the power of technology to promote both better learning and more meaningful assessment.

David Hawley is Chief Academic Officer, International Baccalaureate    

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