New Post-Covid Models of Assessment? | Portsmouth High School

New Post-Covid Models of Assessment?

When the government cancelled the 2020 exams it seemed a one-off measure born out of necessity and a large measure of desperation. 

The quick-fix of teacher assessed-grades, heavily overlarded with norm-referenced exam board grade award, has raised so many issues that there is no likelihood of a repeat in 2021.

Somehow or other there has to be an exam for the 2021 cohort.  Suggestions about delaying the sitting miss the point because we have no way of predicting what will happen in the next eleven months.  The best laid plans of Heads of Departments will inevitably go awry.

The current rigid model

The coronavirus epidemic has exposed the key weakness of our current system: its rigidity.  Since 2015 the reformed qualifications have been fed by detailed schemes, specified knowledge and the minutiae of planning for every last bit.  Adaptable and flexible it isn’t.

Earlier fault-lines have widened as debate focuses on how well the GCSEs fulfil the work and education context of the 2020s.  Facing high unemployment from the demise of traditional and service industries we need to cultivate creativity, independence, ingenuity, logical thinking and critical reading to fill the gaps.

Because our assessment-led curriculum is not going to change its priorities we need then to start with the kind of assessment that will weather the current storm and lead us to more relevant learning.  In some ways I want to carry on the debate where Kevin Stannard’s article leaves off.  Will exams ever be the same again – I hope not…

The problem-solving model

The problem-solving model may well seem a challenge to the current preference for the knowledge-rich curriculum favoured by Ofsted and the establishment.

What I would like to see is the kind of assessment I encountered in the Advanced Extension Award, which flourished between 2000-2008.  The papers had to provide opportunities for higher level thinking for students who had covered a wide range of material in all five specifications from the domestic exam boards.

Therefore the questions had to be open ones not privileging any particular material.  The most exciting one was of course English which was quite a bulky paper with passages A-I taken from a range of texts across different periods, and theoretical material provided in manageable extracts in another section.

The candidates had to answer a question in which they would write a critical appreciation of a passage, applying a theoretical passage, both of which they had never seen.  Then they had to critique their work, showing what approach they had chosen and why, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their methodology.

Not only is the task challenging, but the candidate has to be able to think metacognitively when evaluating the approach.

The second task involved a re-shaping of a passage in a different genre of their own choice, being as creative as possible, but evaluating their successes.

It’s not hard to see how it would be possible to extend such a model to geography, business, economics, sciences and even arts subjects to create problem-solving situations using case studies as a basis for candidates to work on.  The materials would all be in the paper.

Obviously teaching would be more demanding in that teachers would have to find a wide array of materials for their students to work on and teach the principles and skills to interpret unseen content.

What would be the benefits?

  1. Students would have to be more independent from Day 1.  They would be expected to find references for themselves and use the principles taught in lessons to interpret them.
  2. Time spent on the Revise – Regurgitate mode would be reduced.  Instead teachers would set up a variety of situations to test the development of skills.
  3. Lessons would be less about short quizzes testing and re-testing the same material until it is absorbed and more about using and re-using skills.  They would be liberated from palely imitating “model answers”.
  4. Students would be less reliant on study guides.  This would be a great advance for education as the main function of the study guide is too often to allow students to short circuit their learning.  The study guide tells them what to think and breaks down the information into chunks – what it very rarely does is provide challenge to enable the user to think independently.
  5. If there were another Lockdown either locally or nationally students would be much more self-driven; and online sessions would be more involving as students bring their research into the sessions.
  6. The employees and students of higher and further education would be much more adaptable and less reliant on others.  Their skillset would be more aligned to the next stage of their lives in a global economy.  Universities such as Maastricht in Holland teach through the case study approach.  Employers want to recruit more people with the “soft skills”.
  7. Most of all it will open up the possibility of more interesting lessons and more creative pedagogy, less of the old cramming-style.
  8. And in these times when knowledge is no longer the fixed point it was when content was communicated through textbooks, but a mutating mass accessed through technology what our students will learn is how to critique and make use of what they find.  Thinking of the current debates that have arisen over racial, gender and class biases in the curriculum content it’s a chance to step towards a newer and renewable knowledge.

The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily robbed us of the concrete realities of our teaching and learning lives; it has exposed us to a future that we know will be full of uncertainty.  It’s all too tempting to find comfort in traditional education and to forget the unsatisfactory constraints hitherto.  But with a more innovative, exciting and flexible assessment model we are more likely to cope with the unknowable unknown.

This article was originally published on the NATE website and Portsmouth High School would like to thank both NATE and Yvonne Williams for enabling us to publish this article on our school website.