Next Generation Assessment Panel Discussion: Assessment Around the World

Olly Newton, Executive Director of the Edge Foundation, gives a round-up of the key debates on the Assessment Round the World panel at the NGA 2024 conference.

As England reconsiders its approach to assessment, what can we learn from best practice around the world? This was the topic of our second panel discussion at the Next Generation Assessment Conference in Manchester on 18 March. Chaired by Rosie Clayton (Rethinking Assessment) four experts offered a glimpse into how their organisations are rethinking assessment in a global context.

Michael Stevenson – Senior Consultant, OECD

Michael Stevenson opened with an exploration of PISA assessment, which, over the past 25 years, has become a dominant force in global education standards. While PISA offers a way for nations to benchmark their education systems, he said it has also focused on evaluating “education for jobs” at the expense of more holistic skills.

Subsequently, the OECD – which oversees PISA – is evolving its assessment approach towards more formative (learner-focused) over summative (accountability-focused) assessment. It is also integrating digital learning environments to ensure education and assessment remain fit for the modern age.

In addition, the OECD is developing a new ‘Education for Human Flourishing’ framework to nurture skills like creativity and compassion. This will empower young people to replace broken economic, social and organisational models and put meaning back into their lives. The OECD is working with seven high-performing countries on this vision, including the UK. The stakes are high. “For better or worse, PISA is determinative of where countries go,” Stevenson explained. “If we can evolve, it will shift how assessment works around the world.”

Cassy Taylor – Director of Qualifications Policy & Reform, Qualifications Wales

Cassy Taylor explained how Qualifications Wales is updating its 14-16 qualifications to align with the goals of the new Welsh Curriculum. Along with digitising aspects of assessment for existing 14-16 GCSEs, Qualifications Wales is developing new qualifications. This includes VCSEs (Vocational Certificates of Secondary Education) – similar in size and level to GCSEs but with a more practical focus. The organisation is also developing foundation qualifications for those not yet ready for GCSEs.

One of the most transformative approaches, though, is a new Skills Suite, comprising three elements: Skills for Life (including units on anything from practical gardening and home management to maintenance and wellbeing), Skills for Work (including topics like understanding the jobs market or digital technology in the workplace), and a personal project of the learner’s choosing. All this allows learners to shape their qualification to meet their post-16 interests and goals.

By offering a diversity of equally valued qualifications, Qualifications Wales hopes to move away from GCSEs alone to more inclusive, coherent qualifications that cater all 14-16 learners. They are working with awarding bodies to develop and launch these qualifications in 2027.

Fabrizia Flynn – Head of Assessment Principles & Practice, IBO

Fabrizia Flynn explained how the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) is currently reimagining its 16+ programmes – including the IB Diploma and career-related offerings – by prioritising development of ‘future-fit skills’, diverse perspectives, and by fusing global and local skills and outlooks.

One focus of IBO’s work is incorporating artificial intelligence into coursework – an issue that many educators are currently grappling with. “It's not about penalising the use of AI, but exposing students to tools they’ll use in the real world,” Fabrizia explained. IBO has developed an ‘ethical researcher’ model, which places students at the centre of thought ownership. It aims to show learners that their words and ideas matter, while highlighting how they can ethically use AI to borrow and build on the thoughts of others – and how not to use it.

Additionally, IBO is targeting inclusive assessment design. Crucially, this recognises that inclusivity goes beyond matters of ability and addresses diverse cultural influences and value systems. Fabrizia stressed the importance of planning for adversity to ensure that qualifications are resilient enough to adapt to changing needs. “As assessment developers,” she concluded, “we must ensure that education is a constant source of hope.”

Graeme Wallace – Senior Education Officer, Education Scotland

Our final speaker, Graeme Wallace from Education Scotland, outlined Scotland's new approach to profiling educational achievement, using various techniques to capture and celebrate all aspects of a child’s development.

Education Scotland has formed a national community of practice comprised of educators from diverse settings. Part of the group’s role is to support implementation of learner profiles and related assessment techniques such as project-based learning, micro-credentialing, digital badges, and more. The group has developed a national digital system to capture and store learner achievement.

Graeme explained how Early Years provides a fertile testing ground for new approaches, since teachers in this field are already skilled at observing and capturing moments of personal growth. By moving away from a written ‘school report’ model, Early Years educators are delivering more collaborative assessment methods that involve directly working with pupils to ignite their enthusiasm. It has also improving parental communication.

Meanwhile, Scottish secondary schools are developing skills frameworks with employers that they can use to design new pedagogies. Linking these to a personal profile, young people can make sense of how and why their core skills and capacities are developing. They can then use these to apply to jobs and college.

Despite these innovations, our panellists were quick to note that the journey is not always plain sailing. Change must walk a tightrope between ambition and manageability. Achieving sustainable reform, therefore, requires policymakers working as one, with stakeholders joining forces to help bring the profession, the public – and of course, politicians – along for the ride.

You can see more from the conference here https://www.edge.co.uk/news-and-events/events/next-generation-assessment-conference-2024/

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