March 2021 edition: Digital Assessment in Trusts and their Schools

Digital Assessment in Trusts and their Schools

Digital technologies have been a saviour for many Trusts and their schools throughout the pandemic. With lessons over Zoom, collaboration work via Google Meet and Microsoft Teams and the creation of The Oak National Academy, to name just a few. Now that the vaccine roll-out is underway and we’re on an 'irreversible path' out of lockdown however, it begs the question: has COVID-19 been the catalyst to a much more digitally-enabled education system, or a passing fad? We have come so far that I believe this adoption of EdTech will (and should) be a lasting legacy.

Much focus during this EdTech revolution has, quite rightly, been placed on ensuring that learning continues through the pandemic. Far less focus has been on how we will assess this learning. In many cases assessment as we know it has simply been cancelled[1]. In cases where it hasn’t, the solutions have been far from ideal, with summer 2021 GCSE, A-Level and vocational exams being the next big test of these alternative arrangements.

This need not be the case. Better solutions exist and the benefits of using them are far wider reaching than you might imagine.

Why digital assessment?

Digital assessment allows learners to evidence their knowledge and capability in a credible and authentic way. Unlike paper and pen, through digital assessment, teachers gain a much deeper understanding of how and what their students are learning. Similarly, learners can benefit from a much more engaging assessment experience and in many cases receive immediate feedback on their performance, which allows for short cycle interventions to address gaps in understanding.

As we move increasingly towards a ‘skills society’, and against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving jobs market, there is a strong argument that assessments need to reflect these vital skills, from problem-solving and critical thinking, to collaboration and communication skills. Digital assessments allow for much richer and more authentic ways to test skills than pen and paper exams can.

Reducing workloads

Not only is digital assessment a better approach to the modern job market and a more authentic experience for the learner, it can also open up a world of benefits for Trusts and teachers. As Ofsted reported, teachers work 12 hours a week more than the average full-time employee.

With the appropriate deployment of automation, it’s entirely possible for digital assessment systems to automatically generate questions and assessment tasks, to score and grade student responses and to provide pre-generated feedback to the learner. Clearly this level of automation is not appropriate in all cases, but such an approach would permit the teacher more time to focus on high-quality interventions and building stronger connections with pupils.

Smart assessment

Another time-saving advantage of digital assessment, when combined with good assessment and question design, is the ability to highlight ‘common misunderstandings’ in subjects, rather than just ‘wrong answers’. This equips teachers with the ability to see not only what an individual pupil has learnt, but also what might need re-covering. With digital assessment, this can be done in real-time, allowing the teacher to make on-the-fly adjustments to their teaching. For the learner, this results in a far more personal experience.

Now that the vaccine roll-out is underway and we’re on an “irreversible path” out of lockdown however, it begs the question: has COVID-19 been the catalyst to a much more digitally-enabled education system, or a passing fad?

Peter Collison

These insights can also be aggregated and analysed at a Trust level, allowing meaningful conversations to be held around standards, consistency, pupil progress and sharing of best practice.

No solution is one-size-fits-all. There are different forms of assessment for different contexts. In topics with clear right or wrong responses, on-screen testing makes it easy to create assessments that accommodate the full range of student abilities. In more subjective contexts however, more flexible assessment approaches and even peer assessment using principles like adaptive comparative judgement[2] might prove a better solution.

Making the transition

Despite the undeniable benefits of digital assessment, for many Trusts and schools the pace and scale of transition needs to fit with the needs of their pupils and the wider environmental context.

An agile or iterative approach can help a Trust get started, for example by introducing digital assessment for a particular subject or course where the benefits will be the most meaningful. Then, with a blended approach, where teachers continue to deliver physical assessment in the interim, the benefits of digital assessment can be harnessed across the Trust.

Irrespective of how Trusts and their schools plan the adoption of digital assessment, it’s more important than ever to ensure assessments can be conducted successfully and in an authentic, meaningful way. Why? Because assessment doesn’t have the choice of standing still – the lives of learners have not stopped, their aspirations and goals for the future have not vanished and so the role that assessment plays in their learning journey remains as important as ever.


References

[1] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/primary-assessments-future-dates

[2] https://rmresults.com/digital-assessment-solutions/rmcompare

 

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