Photo by Rendy Novantino on Unsplash

I have been doing a lot of reading about assessment this week as part of the Pontydysgu led Erasmus+ project on eAssessment in Vocational Education and Training. A few quick takes aways from that work, which I am generally enjoying. eAssessment seem to be on the way in, in part because of the move to online during the Covid 19 pandemic. Having said that there is still an awful hang up on examinations. Indeed it would appear some policy makers seem to think that assessment and exams are the same thing! At least in vocational education and training, the move to using technology for assessment appears to be associated with an appreciation of the importance of Formative assessment. There appears to be far less use for summative assessment. Of course different countries have different assessment systems. But at east in the UK there is some resistance from awarding bodies to trust eAssessment. Another hang up is a fear remote assessment may lead to an increase in cheating. In Higher Education this is leading to a boom for companies selling proctoring applications, but there is a fairly fierce kickback to these from learners and teachers alike. One interesting contradiction is between the twin demands of a 'good' assessment system is between reliability and validity. Of course people always say they want both. But in reality the higher the degree of reliability (largely through standardisation) the lower the level of validity. And vice versa.

A more imaginative and creative approach to both increasing the validity of assessments and reducing the likelihood of cheating at the same time is developing authentic assessment. I've been asked a few times to explain what authentic assessment is and generally have not done very well explaining it. But I stumbled on this excellent explanation by Shane Sutherland from Pebblepad in a piece introducing his contribution to a panel at the BETT show in London (sadly after the event). Here is what he says.

What is authentic assessment anyway?

There are plenty of academic articles about what authentic assessment is – and it can get pretty complicated. But, there’s a simple explanation to be had: authentic assessment relates to what students experience in the real world. Instead of testing students’ proficiency in completing tests, authentic assessment methods are designed to assess knowledge and test how students apply that knowledge in real world situations.

Indeed, we’ve seen that the extent to which an assessment demonstrates the purposeful application of knowledge in practice is increasingly more important than knowledge recall. In short – knowing ‘stuff’ is important, but knowing how to apply that ‘stuff’, in different contexts, is invaluable.

Importantly, authentic assessment mechanisms give students the ability to focus on how they solve problems. In an exam situation, a student might correctly answer a question – but that doesn’t mean they did it purposefully – or that they could reach the same answer again. Instead, authentic assessment, which includes the opportunity for reflection, allows students to show their ‘workings out’. And importantly, they can decide what they’d do better or differently in future – allowing for continuous improvement.

The good news is that there are plenty of educators which are already harnessing authentic assessment to help develop skilled, capable – and importantly confident – students and graduates. Over the last year (although admittedly hamstrung by Covid) we’ve seen a significant increase in simulations, projects, work placements, and workplace assessment – all of which bears witness to its growing importance in assessment design.