Rethinking Assessments

                                              

Imagine yourself sitting for an online exam not knowing what you’re being assessed for, don’t have a clue about how to answer the questions online, or not even sure if this new way of testing will “understand” your answers!

This is what most students worldwide feel nowadays due to the unexpected closure of many schools; leaving school leaders, teachers and consequently students clueless about many issues that were considered a given before COVID-19.

One of these issues is assessment, where the main concerns of a lot of teachers and leaders now are (but not limited to):

  • How can we provide students with a reliable tool of online assessment?
  • How can we prepare students for online assessment? 
  • How can we prevent plagiarism and cheating in online assessment?
  • Are there any reliable (and free) assessment tools out there?

Before we address these questions, we need to understand the purpose and types of assessments.

The purposes of assessments are mainly:

  • Assessment of learning
  • Assessment for learning
  • Assessment as learning

Many educators confuse “Assessment of learning” with “Assessment for learning”; the simplest way to differentiate is 

The difference between assessment of learning and assessment for learning is a matter of function and purpose–a matter of ‘who’: assessment of learning is a way to see what the students can do while assessment for learning is a way to see what the teachers should do in response.” Terry Heick-founder & director, teachthought

“Assessment as learning” is when the process of assessment itself is teaching students skills; such as problem solving, critical thinking, etc…; in other words, students are active participants in their learning process.

There are many types of assessments, but Diagnostic, formative and summative assessments are the most commonly used out there

Though both diagnostic assessments and formative assessments aim to inform teachers to instruct more effectively, they emphasize different aspects; Formative assessments are taken during a unit to assess how students are learning the material that the teacher has been teaching, while diagnostic assessments come before this, analyzing what students have learned in the past, many times from different teachers or classesand the results are used to identify areas that need more attention in future instruction.

some teachers use the same pre-test (diagnostic) and post-test (summative) to make this difference more evident. This strategy provides great data on how students have progressed is a sure-tell way to measure and analyze growth over the year.

How to design an online assessment?

In this stage Benjamin Bloom should be your friend! Bloom’s Taxonomy is a reliable tool at this stage as ataxonomy of learning outcomes with accompanying language will help scaffold the creation of your assessment.(To know more about Bloom’s taxonomy, click here). That’s why assessments must be linked to learning outcomes and instructional activities.(To know more about learning objectives and outcomes, click here).

Therefore, assessments demand:

  1. precise language
  2. a good deal of revision, and
  3.  to be aligned with learning outcomes and instructional activities. 

The university of Calgary has created a great guide for online assessment that includes assessment platform checklist, RISE Model for feedback, a plan template to guide you while planning your assessment and many more. (you can find the guide here)

How to boost the reliability of your assessments?

According to John Kleeman (assessment management software expert), there are 6 practical tips to do that:

  1. Use enough questions to assess competence

Although you need a sensible balance to avoid tests being too long, reliability increases with test length

  1. Have a consistent environment for participants.

For test results to be consistent, it’s important that the test environment is consistent – try to ensure that all participants have the same amount of time to take the test in and have a similar environment.

  1. Ensure participants are familiar with the assessment user interface. I

It’s common to provide practice tests to participants to allow them to become familiar with the assessment user interface. This can also reduce test anxiety which also influences reliability.

  1. If using human raters, train them well.

Train your fellow observers/raters, review their performance, give practice sessions and provide exemplars.

  1. Measure reliability. 

There are a number of ways of doing this, testing the exam and the platform itself by yourself is the most reliable one. Make sure to provide your students prior the test with any requirements (internet speed, browser, etc…)

  1. Conduct regular item analysis to weed out ambiguous or poor performing questions. (if available)

Item analysis is an automated way of flagging weak questions for review and improvement that is provided by many Learning management systems, such as Blackboard. Running regular item analysis is the best way to identify poorly performing questions.

Without these practices, even the best technology will not save a poorly designed assessment.

How can we prepare students for online assessment? 

  • Pens down! 

That’s your first step in preparing your students. Encourage your students to use keyboarding in project-based learning use tools like Google Docs to practice typing

  • Virtual Vs. Physical:

For example, ask students to use a physical and digital protractor to help scaffold their digital-literacy skills.

  • Practice makes perfect:

Allow your students to have practice tests on the same platform they’ll use in their actual assessment, add a practice quiz with unlimited attempts so students can experience an online exam. Also make sure they’re using the same devices while doing both.

How can we prevent plagiarism and cheating in online assessment?

First of all, we need to understand how students cheat to prevent that from happening. 

It’s not just Google!

There are many tool students can use to cheat 

  • Plagiarism 
  • Conspire with others to obtain exam questions/answers in advance 
  • Have someone else do the work 
  • Look things up while taking exam (when not permitted) 
  • Unauthorized collaboration 
  • Illicitly obtain publisher’s test banks and solution manuals 

Strategies to avoid cheating:

The University of Regina in Canada has set up a set of extremely useful strategies to reduce cheating in online courses and assessments, including:

It’s not about the software, it’s about the questions!

  • Include information about Academic Integrity and consequences of violations. For example, I used to get my students sign a contract with all the rules and regulations during classes and exams in which penalties are amplified.
  • Ensure questions are unique, meaningful and authentic which require higher-order critical thinking.
  • Try to avoid multiple choice questions that are easy to Google. 
  • Create more application type questions that ask students to analyze, explain, and interpret. 
  • Use short answer or essay type questions related to a reading or case study 
  • Schedule the exam to be taken at a set time rather than being open for 24-48 hour window. 
  • Keep exams brief time (e.g. 15-30 min.) but more frequent. 
  • Use a bank of questions and give each student a different exam. Example: Have three versions of the same question. 
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies. Some alternatives to exams include:  
    • Projects
    • Problem solving 
    • Case studies 
    • Portfolios
    • Group work and peer assessment 
    • Presentations 

Are there any reliable (and free) assessment tools?

There are hundreds of assessment tools out there, many of them are free, but the very few you can actually count on comes that usually provides paid services.

Based on the ease of use; Kahoot is ranked first, where it provides instant assessment and feedback in a fun and engaging environment.

Schoology is a K-12 Learning management system (LMS) that helps schools and districts efficiently manage instruction, learning, grading, attendance, assessment, analytics and more.

Blackboard Learn is a File Sharing – Learning Management System (LMS) with a better, more engaging learning environment, but it can be provided to institutions, not individuals.

SeaSawNearpodQuizzizSocrative, and many more are widely used assessment applications in everyday classes, but there are certain platforms that uses Artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent cheating. Those can be extremely important during final exams in schools as well as universities. Examsoft is one of these platforms that provides a complete system for detecting, preventing, and deterring virtually all possible forms of academic dishonesty during in-class and remote exams.

In order to decide which tool suits you and your students, many factors to be considered, such as affordability, age range, subject, type of assessment, etc., to make an informative decision regarding the online assessment software to be used.

Role of schools and Districts in providing online assessment.

Teachers shouldn’t be solely responsible for providing the suitable assessment tools since most of them either are expensive, require training or doesn’t provide individual (teacher) accounts. Most reliable online assessment tools are found as a feature in a learning management systems (LMS) which should be provided by school leaders to staff.

With so many learning management systems available, how can school leaders choose the best solution for their institution? 

School leaders must make sure that there is close alignment between the district’s/Ministry’s instructional goals and the capabilities of the LMS they choose.

As a school leader, you need to consider these tips while choosing the right LMS for your school:

  • Team decision:

The decision of choosing the right LMS should come from the stakeholders; i.e: IT people, teachers, parents and students. Assembling a team representing each stakeholder is the best practice. When stakeholders agree upon a certain platform, they’re more apt to adopt the system right away.

  • Goals:

Setting the goals to be achieved from using the right LMS will make it easier and faster to choose.

“When defining your goals and planning your needs, it’s important to think not just strategically but also systemically. The need to aggregate, analyze, report, secure, manage, and leverage the data generated in today’s far more digital classroom has driven the need to invest in solutions that will benefit the whole organization.” Kelly J. Calhoun – Research Director for Gartner’s K–12 Education Division

Once the goals are defined, It’ll be easier to describe the school’s requirements consequently narrowing down the platforms list.

  • Evaluate:

Inviting the suggested LMS providers to the school/district to present their platforms features and prices to be able to choose “The One”.

  • Choose:

Once all the previous steps are accomplished, the foundation for successfully choosing an LMS has been established to support your digital transformation at your school.

Let’s not forget that the 5 key criteria (excluding pricing) to consider in the LMS of choice which are:

  1. Usability
  2. Reliability
  3. Security
  4. Integration
  5. Support

The Bottom Line

There is no “one and only” tool for online assessment, some can be useful in certain stages, others may not. As a teacher you have to define the goals behind the assessment to be able to choose the right tool for it. On the other hand, school leaders should also assist and support teachers either by providing a unified platform for all teachers to use or at least setting the guidelines and criteria for choosing the suitable online assessment platform.

Published by Israa Osman

With over 12 years of teaching experience, having taught students in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Essraa holds a TEFL and a diploma in teacher training from London Teacher training College, Pathways course from IH London (CELTA equivalent) and CET (Cambridge English Teaching course). Also having 3 years of teacher training experience with reputable institutes, such as Emkan education, Cambridge international assessment and MISK. Essraa’s extensive experience teaching students of diverse backgrounds in many countries has helped develop her empathetic approach to teaching. She is currently the founder of Teach-O-Gen

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