How can digital assessment benefit awarding organisations?
RM recently undertook research into the evolution, benefits, and challenges of digital assessment for high-stakes examinations around the world. The findings describe a mixed picture. Some countries and sectors have reverted to more traditional methods of assessment after the changes imposed by the pandemic. Others are keen to push further with the perhaps unexpected benefits brought by the forced adoption of a more digital approach.
A handful of countries were already exploring the advantages of digital adoption when the pandemic took hold and are fast becoming the blueprint for others to learn from. For example, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) embarked on a ‘digital assessment transformation journey’ of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) to reflect the digital world in which students live and learn.
NZQA anticipated other benefits from adopting digital assessment technology, including:
improving educational outcomes by using data and insight
increasing the equity of NCEA outcomes for Māori and Pacific students
embedding more resilience into their systems and processes.
These potential benefits are, at first sight, unique to NZQA’s individual circumstances. However, it is possible to extrapolate them into a broader set of potential advantages achievable by most awarding bodies.
Increased efficiency in marking
Many awarding organisations begin their journey to digital assessment with e-marking. This involves scanning exam scripts which are then marked on-screen. Typically, the set-up of e-marking removes the need for markers to undertake repetitive, low-value tasks. For example, adding up the marks for individual questions can be done automatically, eliminating human error and ensuring accuracy.
Other frustrating events, such as markers returning incomplete scripts, can be eradicated by using on-screen marking since submitting a marked script is impossible until all sections have been completed.
On-screen marking allows markers and examiners to fit their tasks around other demands in their lives. This can positively impact the retention of trained and capable markers. Eliminating the need for markers to travel to and from marking centres and scripts to be delivered to them makes it easier for awarding organisations to deploy their resources effectively and scale up as needed to meet the demands of any exam cycle.
Increased efficiency in authoring and test design
The move to embedding digital technology more deeply in the assessment process brings new opportunities in the realm of test authoring. On-screen marking and exam delivery quickly generate data on how students engage with and perform on individual questions. By creating near real-time data, iterating and improving questions can start much sooner. The process also becomes more secure with creation, validation and testing occurring within a controlled digital environment.
Clearly, the move to digital assessment removes the tangible elements of paper-based assessments and the need to move them from central production to multiple test centres. In doing so, the possibilities for certain inadvertent or more malicious security breaches are removed.
Awarding bodies still need to take steps to ensure the integrity of digital processes. However, these technical steps are generally implemented centrally and suffer less from the unpredictability of a multi-part supply chain. Digital assessment processes can also remove the unexpected cost pressures associated with traditional paper-based examinations.
A better experience for students
The varied assessment techniques made possible by digital technology can help students remain engaged with their learning journey. Students will feel supported and appreciate that their needs are being met.
When fully digital examinations are used, a student’s skills and knowledge can be tested in ways that give the candidate the best chance of success. Work for assessment can be submitted in various formats, all easily handled by markers via simple, secure online access. The efficiency improvements mentioned earlier mean that results are more consistently and reliably delivered according to published timescales.
Given the nature of the assessments managed by awarding organisations, there is generally just one chance to get the process right and give students the best chance of success. Therefore, contemplating change can be difficult. Our online assessment technology helps awarding organisations worldwide meet their stakeholders’ developing needs at all stages of their digital adoption journey.