Assessment Thinking: Two new reports.

This week two reports were published looking at alternatives to our current qualification and assessment framework. I’m still processing them but I thought I’d share them here for ease of reference, with some initial thoughts. I’m especially interested because I’m just putting the finishing touches to a National Baccalaureate Trust consultation document and questionnaire that will be released in a couple of weeks. Each of these reports is exploring similar territory – but approaches the search for solutions in a totally different way. Both reports contain elements I’d like to see in a National Bacc for England – and both contain elements I’d be strongly against! I think it’s important to read them with an open-minded spirit, looking for alignment and consensus around key principles without needing to buy into the specifics wholesale.

  1. EDSK: Re-assessing the future. Part 2.

The EDSK report examines the issues around technical and vocational learning within our current system and compares the English system with other countries in terms of structure and breadth. They make a number of very specific recommendations including replacing our current 11-16/16-18 system with a 11-15/15-18 system where online assessments at 15 replace GCSEs at 16. They propose a 15-18 baccalaureate system with various very specific elements including more subjects and more compulsory subjects within a framework that has three pathways and a specified credits system. It’s all very detailed.

My initial thoughts and questions are:

  • I quite like the idea of a three-year final phase but Is the 11-15/15-18 reorganisation achievable in practice when we have so many 11-16 schools? I can’t see this ever happening in practice and that could be a terminal roadblock.
  • I like the idea of having more online assessments instead of so many ‘in the hall’ exams but I think this needs to evolve slowly.
  • I like the idea of a Baccalaureate (obviously!) and the principle of pathways within it makes sense; I also like the general idea of weightings and credit values being used. However I think it’s premature to specify the actual weightings at the stage when so many other variables are at play. Nonetheless, it’s bold of them to propose such a specific example of what such a model could be.
  • I agree with the principle of having more subjects studied and more compulsory elements in the final phase.
  • I’m a confused about the role of personal development – the ‘creativity, action and service’ element of the IB, for example? I’m not seeing that given much value in this model – unless I’ve missed something.

2. CSE/Re-Thinking Assessment: Bill Lucas:

In contrast to the EDSK report, this one is much more exploratory. There are no major conclusions or recommendations – it’s more a survey of the field of assessment alternatives. It’s not focused on structural qualifications either – so any headlines that link this to ‘scrapping GCSEs’ are misleading. The RA/CSE report doesn’t get into how qualifications would be awarded. What they’re doing is looking at ways students could be assessed beyond traditional examinations. There are some general ideas and thresholds for validity that are explored and some nice examples of each idea in practice, taken from a range of systems being trialled around the world. However, even here – it would be mistake to read this and think ‘they’re saying we should replace GCSEs with this..’. No – they are really just asking – would something like this add depth and breadth to our current system and perhaps help to rebalance the values and weightings within it?

My initial thoughts and questions are:

  • I like the idea that students should be assessed in a broader range of ways; exams are very important in my view – especially if we still want national graded qualifications to have meaning- but can’t be everything we use.
  • I like the reference to project like EPQ. Embedding an EPQ-like element into an overall Bacc model is a must in my view.
  • I love the idea of the digital transcript. The example from Mastery Transcript Consortium is interesting: I think the idea of all students leaving school with this kind of digital record is excellent and easily done. There are enormous possibilities here. However, I’m less keen on some specifics – eg the list of ‘transferrable skills’ – which is massively open to debate and is likely to be largely based on self-report. I’d rather focus on tangible things students have done.
  • Linked to the previous point, I like the idea of micro-credentials and digital badging. As part of a wider Bacc transcript and portfolio, I think this is almost inevitably the way things will go – eventually. However, it’s only when lined up against more rigorous common assessments like GCSEs that these things will hold up and add value – in my view. They’ll buckle under if subjected to too much accountability pressure.
  • I’m dubious about the use of psychometric testing – even Bill Lucas (via twitter) said he thought this might only have formative value, not be used summatively – which I was pleased and relieved to hear. In fact anything about measuring dispositions on self-report-based spider diagrams is, to me, a hard No!. I’ve looked all the linked examples and remain unconvinced.
  • I’m not sure that PISA tests of ‘creative thinking’ are as valid as the report suggests as assessments of individuals and I wouldn’t want to get into measures of that sort in a national system. I’d be more interested in embedding more opportunities for creativity in the curriculum at this point, not giving them all scores.
  • Finally – I love the IB Learner Profile but I don’t fully understand why it’s in this report when it’s not an assessment tool – as the report itself acknowledges. It’s a mission and values statement that doesn’t deal with assessment even of the all elements within it. If anything it reinforces the importance of being clear about the role of assesssment. We can value something – like each part of the IB Learner Profile – without actually needing to assess them. If the point is to just ask that question – then I I guess it’s helpful. But the answer, for me, is that we can’t assess all these things and we don’t need to in order to value them.

Thanks to Tom Richmond and Bill Lucas for sharing these reports. I’ll look forward to the debate to come and will share details around the National Bacc for England consultation very soon.

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