Continuing on from our two part blog on producing assessment materials we look at the potential that digital assessment has to support those involved in education at every level. Assessment provides a way of creating an all-important baseline which can be used to track students’ progress and identify learning gaps. In this interview, Assessment Publisher Susan Thompson talks us through the changing nature of assessment and the opportunities it brings.
Susan Thompson has worked in assessment test publishing for over 20 years, including on major UK and international development projects. She is now a freelance Assessment Publisher and works with Oriel Square in supporting education organisations to develop assessment materials.
Why it matters now
The uptake in digital learning has highlighted where the opportunities in assessment lie. For schools, it’s about planning ahead and building an assessment strategy that will support students and teachers long term.
The nature of assessment has been undergoing some major shifts recently, what progress have you seen?
Assessment provides a way of tracking progress and identifying any learning gaps or learning loss. With the use of digital assessment and instant marking, you’re giving teachers so much more than a set of numbers. Growth in the use of online webinars and training has transformed how providers support educators in using their assessments for maximum impact. Uptake in digital assessment is hugely significant for international schools in particular, as companies are able to better support them to implement assessment products and resources.
Formative assessment (done throughout the year or at the start of a new school year) is being seen as increasingly important for planning – it enables us to look at where students’ learning may not be secure and decide what needs revisiting. Summative assessment clearly has some role to play, but it doesn’t always have an immediate impact in the classroom. As well as using assessment data at a whole school level, ongoing formative assessment allows teachers to look at individual progress too.
Have you seen a change in expectations around what exams should achieve?
Assessment has a high-profile in most schools. Teachers, schools and parents want their students to benefit from a structured assessment system, and for those results to underpin teaching and learning. A good example of that in practice is the Cognitive Ability Test (CAT) used widely in the UK and internationally. Different sets of scores offer up a wealth of information about the abilities of each student, which teachers can then use to improve learning outcomes. As a result, we should see a direct link between the outcomes of an assessment and what happens in the classroom.
We’ve seen that change, for example, in class registers and other school trackers that now include assessment results. Instead of that data being used solely for high-level decisions, those results are now seen as valuable on a classroom teacher level. For example, if a teacher knows the CAT profile of a student and has had some training on what those abilities mean, they can use that to support students better. Ultimately, that’s the aim – to support teachers to find out more about a student as an individual, whether it’s their reading, their numeracy, or their ability.
What are the opportunities that arise from digital assessment?
10 years ago, assessment providers weren’t thinking internationally. Now, providers have to think about different curriculums, different education systems and different cultural contexts. With that perspective, there’s more opportunity to adapt material to fit a particular context. That’s where curriculum mapping comes in. If countries continue to have a global outlook in education, then international partnerships will flourish.
With digital testing, there is the potential for making assessments as accessible as they can be. It makes it easy to set up adapted versions tailored to each individual student and their needs. In terms of inclusivity, digital formats are superior to paper. Our Development Editor at Oriel Square produced a two part series outlining specific ways to make both paper and digitally-delivered assessments more accessible.
What about the challenges?
At the moment, the range of question types in a digital assessment may seem restrictive, and it’s true that until the automatic marking of text open-response is reliable and trusted, digital assessment may appear more limited. There is still a lingering lack of confidence among some teachers in multiple-choice questions, for example.
Providers need to do more to explain that a good multiple-choice question can tell you a lot. By asking well-crafted questions with carefully-considered answer options you can ask more questions, cover more topics and improve the reliability of the test.
At the moment, of course, many public exams are in paper format so teachers will want an authentic experience for their students in their formative assessment. So, until those public exams go digital, paper is still going to be a requirement to some extent. But for assessments that are feeding into teaching and learning, digital is the way to go.
What about how we assess skills?
Assessments are built so that they can be broken down into component parts looking at different skills, knowledge and abilities. For example, if you’re testing reading comprehension you will get something that’s broken down into different component skills of reading comprehension, helping you to see where work needs to be done.
How can we support teachers to adapt to digital assessment?
There’s a lot of time and money invested in assessment by schools so it’s really important to extract every last bit of value. There may be a need to upskill within schools to support the transition to digital assessment so that everybody gets the most from the data. In order to do that, an efficient digital platform and a valid, reliable product must go hand in hand with enhanced reporting and support for users.
At qualification level, until automarking has very high levels of accuracy, we’re some way from digital assessment being rolled out across the board. Despite this, digital assessment is an area that presents lots of exciting opportunities. In the UK, we’re constantly thinking about how assessment can support students and teachers, and also give senior leadership teams a bigger picture. The potential that digital assessment has to support those involved in education at every level is really exciting.