Assessment plays a significant part of our education system. None of us would go to the doctor or visit the hospital with an ailment without an expectation that we’ll receive some sort of treatment to make us well. So too with education — assessment is the way we have of making the learning visible, and of applying some measure to the success of the learner in demonstrating what he or she has learned.
Historically the focus on assessment has been summative — applying measures of how successfully the learner can demonstrate what he or she has acquired through the learning process. There is a saying in education that “the pedagogy of assessment drives the pedagogy of instruction”, meaning that the focus on what is being assessed will often drive what and how we teach. We see evidence of this in the way many teachers and schools approach the challenge of assessing against national standards or NCEA: instead of assessment being the means of measuring student success, it becomes what shapes the curriculum and the way it is taught.
For decades our approach to assessment has also been shaped by notions of the physical place and time of assessment activities, leading to practices that require students to complete assessment activities in certain places at certain times. In recent years there has been an increasing focus on the importance of formative assessment, focusing on progressions in learning, and identification of next steps. Such an approach is gaining support internationally, with a number of initiatives looking at embedding assessment through the learning process
The NZQA website lists a number of examples of assessment approaches in which they distinguish between ‘task assessment’ and ‘evidence assessment’. NZQA have also recognised that the increasing access to and use of digital technologies by students creates significant opportunities for assessing in different ways — using these technologies as the means of completing assessments that are no longer bound by the same constraints of time and place.
Digital technologies are opening up new assessment processes that cater for a learning-centred approach, including eportfolios, rubrics and badges for learning, providing a flexible mechanism for recognising achievements that can be orchestrated and managed by the learner. Today’s students leave lots of data trails – from demographic information, to how they read and highlight ebooks and interact online. The greater use of analytics tools to capture and process this data may provide even greater opportunities to tailor next-steps suggestions for learners, and to understand where the difficulties are occurring so that we can address them in our planning and teaching.
Thinking about these new approaches to assessment creates opportunities for schools to work with their learners in quite different ways, and to see assessment as a part of the learning process. Over the next few years there will be opportunities for schools to allow students to complete summative assessments using the NZQA digital assessment approaches as they come on stream. There will be opportunities for students to complete assessments at different times and in different spaces to the traditional exam room. But, this will rely on schools planning ahead to ensure there is the proper infrastructure in place and access provided to the appropriate devices for all students.
The growing amount of digital data being generated from learner activity will require schools to consider how they store, manage and report on this data, and how it might be used effectively to enable next-steps learning approaches. Schools must also come to understand and plan for the ways in which digital technologies will make learning more transparent – for teachers, pupils and their parents/whanau. This will have important consequences not only for learners who will receive greater levels of interest and support from home as a consequence, but also for teachers who will be required to ensure systems are in place to keep the data in school management systems current and relevant. It will also place increased demands on individual learners to take responsibility for managing and keeping current the artefacts in their personal learning portfolios as evidence of their learning.
- Secondary Context: Sam Cunnane’s work at Fraser High
- Assessment for Learners with Special Education needs
- Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., & Kara, H., et al.(2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki.Summary. Wellington: Teaching Learning Research Initiative
- Mahuika, R. and Bishop, R., Issues of culture and assessment in New Zealand education pertaining to Māori students, University of Waikato.
- Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective
- E Portfolios
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