Assessment and Innovation in Education
Do some forms of student (and school) assessment hinder the introduction of innovative educational practices and the development of innovation skills in education systems? This report focuses on the impact of high-stake summative assessment on innovation and argues that it is possible to reconcile high-stakes assessments and examinations through innovative approaches to testing. While necessary, assessment based on high-stake examinations often acts as an incentive to teach or study "to the test". It may thus limit risk-taking by teachers, students and parents, for instance. The problem may be amplified if a system of accountability and incentives uses the results of these examinations and tests to assess teachers and schools. What should be done to ensure that the systems used to assess education systems do not stifle the risk-taking inherent to innovation – and that they foster innovation skills in students? This study proposes three main ways of combining assessment and innovation: 1) developing a wide range of performance measurements for both students and schools; 2) rethinking the alignment of standards and assessment; 3) measuring the impact of assessments on teaching and learning. One way of influencing teaching and learning might be to modify high-stake testing. Systems will adapt to this, and both teaching and learning will focus on acquiring the right skills. Rather than testing the content of learning, standards could relate to cognitive skills such as problem-solving, communicating and reasoning – with test/examination developers adapting those skills to subjects such as mathematics, science or literary analysis. Similarly, more use might be made of innovative assessment methods based on information and communication technologies, inasmuch as these may feature simulation or interactivity, for instance, at a reasonable cost. Focusing the assessment on cognitive processes rather than content would leave more scope for teachers to put in place innovative teaching/learning strategies. This does, however, assume a high standard of professionalism in teachers and an adequate system of continuing training and knowledge management. As a single type of assessment cannot fully capture student learning, one effective strategy might also be to multiply the number of measurements and thus relieve the pressure on students and teachers to perform well in a single, high-visibility, high-stake test. At the same time, this larger number of measurements could provide the necessary input for systems based on accountability, diagnosis and assessment of the effectiveness of innovative practice. Finally, assessing the technical standard of tests and examinations is an integral part of their development, but it is less common to address the impact they have on teaching/learning or the validity of how their results are used. Since assessment is an integral part of the education process, it is just as important to assess tests and examinations as it is other educational practices in order to achieve improvements and innovation in educational assessment, but also in educational practice.
July 14, 2009