the e-Assessment Association

Standing on Assessment Avenue – time to get the builders in

Standing on Assessment Avenue – time to get the builders in

On Monday 12th October 2015, eAA Vice-Chair Geoff Chapman gave a speech at the Westminster Education Forum event – England’s Examination System – next steps for reform. After introducing the eAssessment Association, Geoff went on to talk about the need to put our own house in order.

The eAssessment Association is a professional body dedicated to promoting better assessment of knowledge, skills and capabilities of people through technology. We have over 1,200 members and twenty sponsors across regulators, awarding organisations, with education professionals such as teachers, lecturers, tutors, examiners and technology providers from all the different areas of assessment.


In 1962, John F Kennedy in his State of the Union address said, “T​he time to repair your roof is when the sun is shining.​” The eAssessment community is currently standing outside the house of schools exams on Assessment Avenue: builders, plumbers, roofers, glaziers are all banging on the door and shouting through the letterbox of the last house in the street to be updated, they are desperate to help for the good of the neighbourhood. Schools exams are the last house on Assessment Avenue to get central heating, double glazing, loft insulation.

Any assessment system is built on confidence. If it is eroded, or if the system is gamed, then unfortunately we are just playing parlour games such as cramming, test prep, the ‘Personal Statement’ for university applicants. The awful cliché of GCSE students binning their textbooks and test prep materials after exam season points is at best wasteful, at worst, a symptom of a dangerous policy: Regurgitation of knowledge (and even understanding) doesn’t cut it any more.

Let me paint a picture of how this house is falling into disrepair.

1. JISC claim that 10% to 14% of school­-age learners have accessibility issues with General Qualifications. It is shocking in the 21st Century that we can legislate for trains and buildings to be fixed to accommodate all passengers, but there is no legislation to support learners.

2. The number of school exam appeals continues to grow. Yet there is no apparent strategy to deal with this ­ approaches such as adaptive comparative judgement for superior and robust reliability should be considered.

3. We are fast approaching a huge growth in school children numbers. Recruitment companies are finding teachers from all over the world. Do we have any ideas on how we’re going to assess all these extra children?

4. Teaching professionals such as Chris King, on a weekly basis make substantiated comments such as “A­-Level marking is so bad, you can’t believe the grades”.

5. Education experts such as Professor Dylan Wiliam claim that for students taking schools exams “Up to 30% will receive the wrong grade.”

6. And most cruelly of all, in almost a Dickensian twist, those teachers who spend their spare time following exactly what the Chief examiner tells them to do (I’m talking about marking) are told that ‘you don’t do it for the money, why should we pay you more.’

Talk about taking a sledgehammer to the foundations of your house!

Employers say “we can’t trust exam results”. Everyone has 5 GCSE passes, but why do they need extra remedial English and Maths lessons? Students want to show employers and extended education providers what they can actually do. They want to demonstrate they can work with others and their peers. Let’s see some skills -­ grown up skills. See how universities are looking at entrance exams again ­ a crisis of confidence and their own version of displacement behaviour.

The impending crisis will not be one of a single traumatic incident. The roof will not immediately fall in. Instead, we see displacement behaviour from those who work around the margins ­ moving the goalposts of assessment levels and qualification frameworks, commissioning pilots and research that never go anywhere, wafting their hands around to blithely dismiss the tens of millions of assessments successfully powered by eAssessment every year. There is a desperation in clinging onto this notion of ‘confidence’, or, if you prefer the modern vernacular, ‘go into denial and just kick the can down the road’.

There is a cliché that the public perception of e­-assessment is that it is ‘dumbed down’ assessment. Actually, regurgitating knowledge with an essay you can’t edit, writing on paper for 3 hours is pretty dumb in 2015. This is not how grown-­ups behave. If you want to be a lawyer, doctor, teacher, construction professional, work in financial services, be a professional driver ­ you take a tough exam powered by e­Assessment. Schools need to know what’s going on outside of General Qualifications and how the rest of the houses in the street have been modernised successfully.

But here’s the good news. The vibrant British eAssessment technology and awarding body sectors are UK plc success stories. Two years ago, 83 regulated awarding organisations were using e-­assessment of some sort in 2211 qualifications ­ all outside of school General Qualifications, much of it done by eAssessment Association members. They are a testament to good practice, but for schools, they are hindered by bureaucracy, endless, banal piloting that leads nowhere and which provides little meaningful insight to learners, teachers, parents or employers.

The rolling thunder of calls to change schools assessment is the loudest it has been for over 10 years. So, today, the eAssessment Association today calls for three specific, timed improvements.

One: A commitment by specific legislation to provide fully accessible exams for all school children by 2018, to reach those 14% who are unfairly disadvantaged by the current regime.

Two: A commitment by awarding body license for all schools examinations to reach 90% reliability across all schools exams by 2018, and 95% by the end of this parliament in 2020. Let’s put that scary 30% statistic to bed.

And finally: Commission a 5 year roadmap called ‘​Show Me What You Can Do​’ ­ how eAssessment can integrate school knowledge examinations with peer-­reviewed and multiple-­educator authenticated project work. Let’s capture and evidence those grown-­up skills that adults actually value.

So let’s hope that the householder gets the builders in quickly, and brings their home up to date.