What Might Be? The Future of Assessment Systems
I think we need to define first what we mean by ‘learning’ in the 21st century. Historically (with roots in ancient times), what was studied was not important, it was doing better that others which mattered. Our current ‘high stakes’ examination system is based on the same assumption.
More recently Dore (1976) argued that getting qualifications, especially in the developing countries, was more important than learning for its own sake. Therefore, for selection purposes, Dore favours aptitude tests, which are independent of preparation and free from ‘cramming’.
Little’s research (1984) showed that parents and children in developing countries, or particular cultures, “believe very strongly that effort is the prime-determinant of academic success and failure” and therefore find it difficult to accept that pupils cannot improve just through effort and practice.
Stobart (2008) sees achievement as a continuum and “the issue is where on the continuum a particular test should sit”. Regarding assessments, the questions, according to Stobart, we should be asking are:
What is the principal purpose of this assessment?
Is this assessment fit for purpose?
What are the consequences, intended and unintended of this assessment?
We need to find answers to these questions before giving a test can be justified. The aim should be to make the assessment good enough to encourage effective teaching and learning (Stobart).
Effective teaching occurs when it is focused on ‘principled’ understanding: the shift from “when you...? to “what if...” approaches.
High stake testing used for accountability purpose can show rapid improvement, but only short-term benefits. According to Goodhart (Goodhart’s law), “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.
Since the aim of assessment is to get results and show improvement in learning, Assessment for Learning, with its focus on the learning processes, rather than on learners’ abilities and with focus on task, rather than self has a central role to play when discussing future assessment systems, and what might be...