26 Feb 2021

As the world changes, why isn’t assessment keeping up?

Written by Stefanie Leong, Asia-Pacific International Baccalaureate Organization
As the world changes, why isn’t assessment keeping up?

We live in an increasingly digital age but the integration of technology into educational assessment, particularly across the Asia Pacific region, has been noticeably slow. Generation Z are the technology generation, having grown up with access to the largest range of digital devices and platforms, both at home and school, that has ever been known. In the face of this, education has been steadily gaining ground with a diverse range of technological tools being developed and implemented in classrooms across the world. Today, teachers can track and assess their students’ – as well as their own and their peers’ – performance and can create digital records of student development and achievement that can be passed from school year to school year. Technology can also be used to continually monitor a student’s progress and achievement levels throughout the year.  

However, in spite of this, there is one area which has fallen vastly behind other aspects of education - assessment. The most commonly employed assessment method remains pen and paper summative assessments, which give students little opportunity to engage their vast technological skill set. Examination boards and schools commonly rely on a bank of questions that are either multiple choice or ‘fill in the blank’ style, which offer students little opportunity to demonstrate their critical and creative thinking, or to apply learning to context. One dimensional assessments like these test only a narrow range of knowledge and skills, and reveal very little about today’s technologically-astute students’ abilities.

This view is supported by the Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment report, which is critical of current assessment techniques that focus on a narrow set of knowledge and skills. The report also notes important changes in assessment that can help to overcome some of the limitations of the current worldwide practices. Reporting on the over-reliance on grades (that reveal little about students’ real-world potential), the essay calls for an ‘assessment renaissance’ whereby preferred attributes can be meaningfully monitored or measured. Educational leaders like the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development are beginning to create interactive assessments that may be able to make a valid and, more importantly, reliable judgement on a student’s skill set and ability to collaborate.

One of the biggest problems with making radical changes to traditional, pedagogical, methods is that no generation of parents wants their children to be the guinea pigs.  However, living in an age of rapid change, it is our duty to experiment, responsibly, to figure out what will truly benefit both the students of today and in the future. Take a look at the ‘flipped’ classroom for example - the idea of inverting traditional teaching methods by delivering instructions online, outside of the classroom, to then use time and resource in school to do homework – a movement that has gained increasing popularity in the US.

Taking the initiative to lead innovation in education, the International Baccalaureate (IB) has been offering an innovative eAssessment model for 16-year olds since 2016, which is taken upon completion of the Middle Years Programme (MYP). MYP eAssessment aims to challenge students to think critically and independently while solving real-world problems, using a broad range of knowledge. 75% of the assessment focuses on inquiry, communication and employing critical thinking skills, while the other 25% focuses on the application of knowledge and understanding.

The MYP eAssessment is gaining significant recognition across the world. As of January 2016, all MYP eAssessment subjects are entered in England’s Register of Regulated Qualifications, as an offering from the IB. This official recognition by England’s government regulator assures schools, parents and students that MYP assessments meet strict quality standards. Ofqual’s recognition of the MYP provides a sound basis for the next phase of MYP recognition across the wider world. In the latest exam session in 2019, more than 77,800 MYP students from around the world sat and received their eAssessment results, representing an 8% increase on last year’s figures. In total, 819 IB World Schools in 98 countries participated.

MYP grades provide important externally-verified results that are poised to serve as an alternative to state or national examinations, and support applications for university or other post-secondary education. Despite final examinations of similar demand, it is the MYP’s function as a pedagogical framework that ensures that the learning experience of students on their journey towards the examinations is quite different.

Technology changes at a fast pace and it is a challenge to make the latest devices accessible to teachers and pupils in school. However, it is now unusual for schools to not have access to PCs, with tablets also often available for teachers’ use too, and schools are increasingly finding ways to integrate technology into their day-to-day teaching and learning. But, even so, use of technology in measurement and assessments continues to lag behind.  

Today’s students have grown up with technology – hardware, software, apps, video games and social media platforms - and they deserve academic assessments that allow them to be recognised for what they already understand; to apply their knowledge using the skills and devices they have grown up with.

Feedback from schools, via an IB survey conducted with educators all over the globe, illustrates the natural connection between eAssessment and what is being taught and learnt in the classroom. Schools have said that, through digital assessment, they are able to assess skills, concepts and thinking, in context, rather than knowledge recall. From the IB’s research, it is clear to see that schools understand that eAssessment supports conceptual teaching and learning, and is not something that can be crammed for - only good MYP practice supports good preparation. Unlike other education environments, in the MYP educators do not teach to test, but their teaching does align with assessment requirements and this brings enrichment and focus to their students’ learning.

As the world of education begins to catch up with the rapid pace of technological advancement seen at home and in the workplace, examination boards and schools must understand and, working together, develop assessment models that measure what, we predict, will matter in tomorrow’s world. We are only at the very beginning of understanding the power of technology in promoting better learning, as well as more meaningful assessments to support this learning.

ibThis article was written by Stefanie Leong, Head of Development & Recognition at the Asia-Pacific IBO Global Centre in Singapore. Stefanie’s role at the IB is to develop and implement a regional strategy which sustains and advances the growth of IB programmes and services in identified and emerging markets. Find out more about IBO here.

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