Thursday, 17 December 2009

e-Assessment - the battlelines are drawn

Today's publication of the second report of the Chief Regulator of Ofqual not only opened up the important debate about e-assessment but to some extent has signalled that this is the desired direction of travel.

Just so we know what we are talking about, the report defines e-assessment as:
For our purposes e-assessment is where the learner responds to questions or tasks on a computer. It does not necessarily mean that the computer carries out the assessment. ..... Nor do we use the term ‘e-assessment’ to mean the use of technology as a tool to support other aspects of the assessment process, such as on-screen marking or the standardisation of markers.
The report touches on a number of key areas in this debate:
  1. Cheating: "Care must be taken to ensure that a candidate cannot copy from a neighbour’s screen, make inappropriate use of the Internet or exchange information if the assessment runs over a number of days."
  2. The number and length of test windows– the time during which candidates can take their assessment. "Is it better to have a longer time period or a number of single-day windows?"
  3. School Technology infrastructure: "At present many test centres, and particularly schools, may not have the technology infrastructure available for all candidates, for a large examination to take an e-assessment at the same time."
  4. Is "on-demand" testing, whereby the learner takes the assessment when it is most appropriate, desirable or even essential?
  5. Most importantly, can an e-assessment framework be produced which avoids distorting the curriculum merely to make it easier to assess on a computer? "Whatever its nature, assessment must cope with all the richness and diversity of the teaching and learning experience."
I believe that there are good educational and social reasons to make significant changes to our public examination system, so I welcome this report, but my fear is that the agenda outlined above does not go far enough. I think that it is desirable that we move to an examination system where pupils have access to the Internet, at least for some of their examinations. There is an obvious parallel here to the debate about calculators in Mathematics exams in the 1980s, the tedious use of slide rules and log tables has gone and the advent of calculators actually meant that pupils can get on with doing more mathematics. Thus, I am intrigued by the reference in the report [quoted above] to the "inappropriate use of the Internet", as this does offer a ray of hope that there will be appropriate use of the Internet in examinations.

It does strike me as rather counter-intuitive that at the very time that schools are considering moving away from the traditional "ICT suite" and are beginning to embrace the idea of pupils using their own small mobile devices in classrooms to support their learning, that we are going to have to invest in some form of fixed-desk infrastructure for examinations.

Further Information
PDF version of the report (Ofqual)
Pen and paper exams 'could be axed' (Daily Telegraph)
Forget pen and paper, it’s time to switch to on-screen GCSEs (Times)
Are public exams entering the twenty-first century? (Blog post 1 May 2009)
QCA efutures website


  1. Schools I think need an IT ecosystem which supports both - fixed desk and mobile. Laptops and to a lesser extent netbooks are no longer relevant - instead a few fixed rooms for booking should be sufficient.

  2. I accept that we need a mixed economy for teaching, but examinations are in effect a third front. I understand that the machines [whether PCs or laptops] need to be "clean" computers and will probably need to be located separately from teaching spaces, so that lessons can continue during exam periods. Controlled assessments seem to be posing a similar problem. All of this requires further investment in ICT kit and spaces