We must rethink assessments to face the future

The new RA learner profile is a crucial contribution to the conversation about making our assessment approach fit for purpose

Michael Stevenson  Senior Adviser OECD Education and Skills

Across the world, educators and employers are realising that there’s little merit in young people leaving education with little more than a series of numbers. A learner profile, which captures details and examples of a broader range of achievements, looks set to be the future. That’s why it’s great to see that Rethinking Assessment has launched its own vision for a learner profile, which is likely to move the debate forward.

There have been some great learner profiles developed recently, especially in Australia and the United States. The latest contribution from Rethinking Assessment draws on all of them while adding a value of its own. It is powerful, simple and communicates just what students might want to say about themselves and what educators and employers, among others, might want to know about them.

Assessment has many purposes and takes many forms. But in what is now a global discussion of new bearings in education, it is continuing assessment of the learning of each student, to guide their ongoing development, that is drawing most attention.

The OECD’s High Performing Systems for Tomorrow initiative is thinking about the purposes and directions of future education. We’ve just completed a cycle of international policy dialogues with Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore. The thinking so far is synthesised in Education for Human Flourishing, published last week.

We argue that assessment should be useful, integrated and rigorous:

useful because it allows learners, educators and employers to recognise precisely what level of competence has been achieved, potentially evidenced by micro-credentials; integrated in the sense that it is embedded in a digital learning environment; and, above all, rigorous, in that it proceeds by asking the right questions, within a framework known as ‘principled assessment design’.

  • What knowledge, skills and attitudes do we want to assess?
  • What are their measurable features?
  • What criteria and rubrics can be designed to score them?
  • What kinds of tasks elicit or probe them?

We also argue that assessment of this kind can open up new competencies, allowing young people to flourish in a world in which robots do the thinking that so far only humans could do. We don’t yet know if artificial intelligence (AI) will put an end to employment – there are competing views. But we can already see that AI will make our choices for us, as consumers and citizens, and may in time undermine our sense of meaning and belonging.

Three competencies seem to distinguish human intelligence from that of machines: adaptive problem-solving, ethical decision-making and aesthetic perception. In the next phase of the High Performing Systems for Tomorrow, we will seek to develop new assessment methodologies – useful, integrated and rigorous – that give us the confidence to take bolder education directions.

Rethinking Assessment is a response to the UK education system. That system, like those in Europe and the United States, was shaped by the imperatives of mass education in the late 19th and 20th Centuries. It may be that Rethinking Assessment can point the way to modification and evolution, so that education institutions in mature economies can offer a more holistic and personalised learning experience, with greater variation in what and how young people learn.

But there is also a chance to bring Rethinking Assessment’s insights into the very different systems and ecosystems now emerging in India, Africa and Latin America. Where the goals of education are to help learners find their purpose, in conditions of adversity. And the means of education are increasingly innovation, partnership and collective learning. To harness the Rethinking Assessment learner profile for the work of Dream a Dream in Delhi, Go For Gold in South Africa and Fundacion Mi Sangre in Colombia could underpin young people’s learning and in time provide an international passport for their knowledge, skills and attributes.

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