Is digital assessment braced to drive UK exams in a new direction?
Following more than two years of COVID-induced hiatus, and the rein of seven secretaries of state over the past six years, educators will be hoping for a more positive academic year this year. But there’s more that Britain’s education system can do to guarantee success beyond simply hoping for a steadier hand on the rudder.
Yes, schools and universities were closed, and exams suspended for a period of time. Yes, learning happened at home, went online or, in some cases, was delegated to private tuition. And with all that upheaval, there is a temptation to simply resort to traditional teaching methods as we return to normality.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst in the move to online exams and although digital experience varied rates of adoption, it provided a level of continuity in education during such uncertain times. And yet, with the many drastic changes that took place during this period, the sector is more resilient and dynamic because of the challenges it overcame/faced. For one, it’s much more resilient and open to change.
Take this year’s A Level and GCSE results days as a case in point. As the first year, since 2019, that students were able to take their GCSE and A-Level exams in-person, there was much more discourse in the sector about how the exam process could be improved upon – not simply wheeled out in the same way it always has been.
With that in mind, this blog will explore the opportunities digital assessment poses to the sector in its very own “new normal”.
What this year's exam results indicate
This year, the proportion of A-Level students who received top grades decreased, with 36.4% of pupils being awarded an A or A*, down from 44.8% in 2021 when it was teacher assessed grading. Given the different ways students were evaluated, however, it's difficult to compare the two and reach a conclusion as to what type of assessment is the most effective.
Resuming traditional exams after disruption was always going to be a gradual process and so these results come as no surprise. However, the disparity in results should further fuel the conversation around the methodology of assessment. We accept that all students learn in different ways, and at different speeds. In the classroom we differentiate to accommodate everyone’s learning style, do we apply enough of the same principles to the assessment hall?
The demand for change
Embracing change in any sector has its challenges but it’s significant that the initial demand for change is there amongst teachers and students across the world, as well as the UK.
What’s more, the most digitally mature schools are starting to innovate themselves to drive positive change using in-built quizzes as a formative assessment tool to enable teachers to change the direction of a lesson quickly and test pupils’ skillsets instead of their ability to retain facts.
Some countries, such as Finland, have already adopted a digital model for their high-stakes assessments. Whilst they have had some challenges, they are now amongst those leading the rest of the world in their application of 21st century technology to deliver a relevant education to their children.
With the appetite for digital assessment growing, awarding bodies have the opportunity to future-proof the education system against unforeseen circumstances that could disrupt opportunities for learning.
As the proliferation of digital assessments increase, there will need to be more investment in the infrastructure required to enable seamless adoption which in turn will add value to schools, increasing efficiency and work life balance.
Preparing for future job roles
Historically, students have prepared for what to expect in the world of work, and it should be no different today. Moving away from traditional pen and paper, high-stakes exams to employ new forms of digital assessments, prepares students for what they’re more likely to experience in today’s tech-driven world.
Allowing students to use computers to solve online tasks offers a more authentic real-world experience and equips them with the transferable skills they’ll need once they leave education and begin their professional careers.
This will bridge the skills gap that currently exists in the hiring process and will better prepare students for their chosen career paths. As well as offering vital skills, digital assessments can provide a platform for those with Specific Educational Needs and remove many of the barriers that exist.
Digital assessment has an important part to play in this sector among each and every student. So, educators should start working with partners that are driving greater use of technology to help them support their staff and students for the world of tomorrow.
Following on from the most recent ways exams have been sat, now is an exciting time for those in the education sector to explore, digitally, the best ways to provide learning and assessment opportunities for all, whilst contributing to bridging the growing skills gap by being equipped with essential, real-life skills that are ultimately the end goal in the education system. The future of exams is digital, and the benefits are speaking for themselves. The future looks bright, and we will not be left behind.