Call for exams to switch to digital assessment

RM’s Peter Collison says that a new, more robust exams model is required

This summer’s GCSE and A-level exams will go ahead, the education secretary has announced, although it remains unclear as to what form they will take.

Having previously said that exams will go ahead as normal, Nadim Zahawi told Sky News on 9 January that this year’s GCSEs and A-levels will be a pre- and post-Covid hybrid of exams and teacher assessments.

Neither option is ideal, according to Peter Collison, head of formative assessment and school platforms at education resource suppliers, RM.

“There’s still no denying that the current disruption, brought on by Omicron, will affect whether all students can take those exams in person,” he said. “With further disruptions still looming, a new, more robust exam model is needed. Switching to digital assessment, for instance, could alleviate many of the challenges plaguing the sector and help to future-proof crucial exams.

Technology offers more value than just a disruption coping mechanism – Peter Collison, RM

“There are benefits beyond simply mitigating against the impacts of Covid-19,” he added. “Digital assessments automatically adapt to individual learners to better their overall outcomes; for instance, asking more probing questions in areas where a learner is performing well or asking questions differently when a pupil is struggling.

“There are also a wider range of specialist tools that help prepare students for real-life jobs available as part of digital assessment – such as those already being used by accountancy firms so that learners can focus on interpretation and analysis – rather than a student’s ability to memorise facts alone.

“While many schools have looked to technologies to facilitate remote learning and virtual lessons over the last two years, it is vital we now look at technology as more than just a short-term, pandemic-related solution. For exams, technology offers more value than just a disruption coping mechanism.

“But before schools make their move, teachers need to be sufficiently trained in all that digital assessment has to offer. Then, with the right tools in place, teachers can reduce their time spent marking and developing new materials, in order to focus on what they do best; building effective relationships with learners and inspiring a passion in new subjects.”

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