Across the world assessment is not working. We are not evidencing the kinds of dispositions and capabilities that society increasingly wants and which help young people to succeed at school and in life.
Educational jurisdictions are placing too much reliance on high-stakes, standardised testing. High-stakes assessment is having a damaging impact on the health and wellbeing of students, and is not giving universities, colleges or employers the kind of information they want. Assessment is out of sync with curriculum and pedagogy. Where we have become increasingly evidence-based in teaching and learning, we are failing to keep up with the science of assessment, preferring to rely on outdated, outmoded and unsubtle methods. We need nothing less than a paradigm shift in our understanding about how best to create assessment systems that use more effective ways of evidencing the full range of student progress.
Rethinking Assessment was established to address these challenges. To contribute to the growing conversation in England and internationally about the case for change, and to identify, analyse and develop potential solutions which deliver more expansive, holistic and strengths based approaches to assessment. Over the last four months we have looked in detail at the problems underpinning our assessment systems, with over 200 contributions from individuals and organisations around the world, and conducted a global horizon scan of the latest research evidence and promising practices and innovations.
Rethinking assessment in education: The case for change
In this paper, a collaboration between Rethinking Assessment and the Centre for Strategic Education in Australia, Bill Lucas offers an overview of our thinking and findings so far alongside his own wider research. Our young people, the paper argues, require all of us working in education to establish greater clarity about the uses of assessment in education, linked to a greater understanding of the science of assessment.
To solely use standardised achievement tests is like casting a net into the sea – a
net that is intentionally designed to let the most interesting fish get away. Then, to describe the ones that are caught strictly in terms of their weight and length is to radically reduce what we know about them. To further conclude that all the contents of the sea consist of fish like those in the net compounds the error further. We need more kinds of fish. We need to know more about those we catch. We need new nets.
(William T Randolph, Commissioner of Education, Colorado)
As William Randolph suggests, it’s time to value more kinds of fish, to know more about the fish we catch, and to use some new nets as we do so.
We need to have much more nuanced, strengths-based, multi-modal descriptions of young people. We need to use some of the many new methods being pioneered across the world, always seeking to make the processes of evidencing progress in all aspects of learning visible and evidence-based.
As we consider the inclusion of any new area for assessment we’ll need to use evidence from the learning sciences to consider:
- Its learnability,
- Its usefulness in life,
- the validity, reliability and practicality with which it can be assessed, and
- its likely positive impact on the development of more expansive curricula.
And we need to get on with it now to reunite assessment with curriculum and pedagogy, from which it has become harmfully separated.