Why continuous assessment will redefine global education
Alex Mirza has no doubt that digital assessment platforms, properly aligned to formative principles, are set to change the world of education.
Assessment has been causing a stir during this pandemic. Teachers, parents and students have faced the brunt of a failing system that some are saying does not measure the right things, isn’t very reliable and leaves in its wake a trail of stress and unfairness.
As a result, and as students return to the classroom after a challenging period of remote learning, educators, like John Hattie, suggest a total assessment overhaul. Hattie will be pioneering the ‘world’s largest student survey about learning’ in the United Kingdom to reframe our approaches to assessment.
Steps toward reinventing the wheel for an entire country of students, especially those who need consistency and structure should be taken cautiously. Now more than ever, we need to dig deeper into why our current processes are failing.
Early warning, 2013
When UNESCO declared a ‘global learning crisis’ in 2013, there were early concerns of worldwide systemic process failures and brought together a Global Alliance, led by top-down organisations such as the OECD, UNICEF, the World Bank and UNHCR. These organisations have already focused on the issue of assessment, the inadequacy of which is undoubtedly limiting the provision and impact of a quality education for many children.
Assessment is a vital component of a quality education; it is the engine that drives student learning. A student undertaking any form of study will be subject to assessment in one form or another and all teachers will be engaged in assessment-related work. Assessments take up a considerable proportion of teacher workload, while for students, it can be a significant determinant of what, when and how they learn.
Getting assessment ‘right’ is therefore essential in delivering a quality education at scale.
Challenges with assessment
To innovate and redefine assessments, we must first understand more about the current assessment methods and why they have put pressure on teachers in a series of systemic failures. Although summative assessment is vital, it continues to be disproportionately valued and in its most extreme form of end-of-course written exams, has passed its sell-by date.
There have been great hopes for the use of formative assessment, popularised in the ’90s and which is well documented for its positive impact as a result of the ongoing feedback it provides to both teachers and learners. However, to ensure reflective teaching is ongoing, a teacher needs to focus on interpreting its meaning correctly while continually reflecting on their practice processes. It can be very time-consuming. Moreover, formative assessment is often interpreted as an assessment ‘of’ rather than ‘for’ learning. This can – and does – result in learners being ‘tested’ as if undergoing summative assessment.
Nikki Booth, in his 2017 article, “What Is formative assessment, why hasn’t It worked and how can we make It better In the classroom?” reflects on formative assessment and why it is not having the impact it should. Alongside the pressure to produce high levels of attainment, he suggests:
- The term ‘assessment’ is associated with tests and therefore the given terminology is misleading.
- The pressure on senior leaders to achieve better grades is passed on to teachers. This pressure is leading to mixing formative assessment with summative outcomes.
- It may be formative in helping the teacher identify areas where more explanation or practice is needed. But for the pupils, the marks or remarks in their work may tell them about their successes or failures, but not how to make progress towards future learning.
It is clear that formative assessment, despite a positive impact, is falling short of expectations and therefore fundamental changes must be adopted if it is to play a significant role in addressing ‘the global learning crisis’.
Continuous assessment is central to progress
To improve learning we need a system that is formative in nature but one that takes into account the need for final grading. It must allow all stakeholders to benefit and provide opportunities to intervene during ongoing learning. In other words, we need an efficient and less time-consuming form of continuous assessment.
Where continuous assessment is the norm
Supporting this approach, Miskin’s paper for UNESCO revealed that ‘continuous assessment can be central to determinations about a child’s school progress’. This is further suggested when we turn to countries that are already getting it right. Countries like Finland, Sweden and Estonia all rank in the top 10 of the PISA ratings (2018) for successful, quality education and positive wellbeing in their students and teachers. In these countries, continuous assessment is the norm.
Digitally assisted continuous assessment: the coming revolution.
Although the implications for implementing continuous assessment look clear cut, in reality a classroom teacher setting up and delivering a high-quality education, based on a competency learning environment, knows how tough it can be to implement detailed change when you have a classroom of 30 or more learners in front of you.
Where do you find the time?
Thankfully, continuous assessment is an area in which educational technology is already playing an important role and has the potential to go further in addressing the woeful inadequacies of the current end of course written exam system, which is collapsing all around us. Properly integrated into a programme of teaching and learning, while respecting the principles of formative and the legitimate requirements of summative assessment, digital assessment platforms are set to play a significant role in the continuous assessment revolution.
They are quite capable of meeting the highest standards required for accurate formative assessment and are already providing low-cost, high-impact data for hard-pressed teachers, enabling them to fine-tune their teaching while providing accurate feedback to their students.
Watch this space. The continuous assessment revolution is already underway.
Further Reading: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/