the e-Assessment Association

Bringing assessment into the digital age

Bringing assessment into the digital age

Published by Education Today (p18), January 2017

Comment by Patrick Coates, director at International Skills UK and board member of The e-Assessment Association.Patrick_Coates_2016

Back in 2009, Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, said that traditional examinations are likely to disappear within 10 to 15 years, and will be replaced by computerised testing. Although exam boards like Edexcel and AQA are now marking some papers online, the education sector remains slow in its adoption of technology-enhanced assessment. So how would e-assessment benefit the education sector?

e-Assessment can take many forms; whether it’s a multiple choice test, marking online scripts automatically or by a human grader, or the use of an online portfolio for evidence based assessment – it’s diverse and evolving rapidly. 

In the professional world, such as the medical and accounting sectors, e-Assessment is the norm. Initially, this was driven by the license to practice market in the USA, where legal defensibility of exam results is required. But, it’s being introduced increasingly in the UK to improve the speed and efficiency of the examination process. E-Assessment, however, is more readily adopted on a smaller scale.

There are exceptions in terms of scale though. The UK Driving Theory Test, for example, has around 2 million tests taken each year. Candidates take an exam that is created by items from a pool of questions, using statistical techniques to ensure that test for one candidate is going to be comparable to another candidate.

There are two ways we can look at the advantages of using technology in assessment. On the one hand, you can use it to do things in the same way as you did before, making the horse faster. Or you can change the way that you do things, and move to a car. The main barrier to adoption has almost always been that digital assessment requires  several thousand PC’s and this physical barrier means we cannot (yet) have every child sit at a connected computer on the same day at the same time to sit one GCSE exam. But this makes me ask – why are we doing this anyway?

If we start to view technology from a more strategic perspective, it affords us the ability to ask, can we transform educational assessment practice? Why not completely change the way high stakes, high-volume exams are delivered? Why not completely review and change the way we assess skills and knowledge?

If we can robustly assess someone’s medical capability or IT skills at a time and place that suits the individual learner and institution, can we not be equally confident that we can assess a young person’s knowledge of mathematics or English?

There are many questions surrounding the use of e-assessment in education that need to be asked. They’ve already been asked by the Australian Government who are moving all of their National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) online next year. The Welsh Government is also planning a similar change.

And we haven’t even started to discuss new advances in adaptive testing, auto-marking, remote invigilation or adaptive comparative judgement and the opportunities they bring.

It’s time to start debating the real strategic opportunities technology can bring to assessment, not just tinkering on the side-lines.