Presentation Slides - Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education
Issues with assessment:
How did we get here? where should we go now?
Harry Torrance
Education and Social Research Institute (ESRI)
Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
[email protected]
Trends in exam results since the 1970s
including national test results since the 1990s
Criticisms and explanations of rising test results
Political intervention and recent exam results
Proposals for change
Problems with the proposals for change and the need
for more investment in teacher development
Figure 1:
% pupils gaining National Curriculum Assessment level 2 or above
at age 7, England
Figure 2:
% pupils gaining National Curriculum Assessment level 4 or above
at age 11, England
Figure 3:
% of pupils gaining O-level/CSE grade 1/GCSE & Equivalents 1975-2010,
Figure 4:
% A-level Passes, 1980-2010, England, age 18
1980: n=567,027
2010: n=784,877
Figure 5:
% Distribution of A-level grades, E-A, 1980 and 2010, England
But this is not just a UK phenomenon:
Figure 6:
Percentage of cohort (18 yr olds) obtaining a Baccalaureat (France)
Background to rising test scores:
Educational and political aspirations over 25+ years:
Selection, certification and qualifications
Human resources development and education for all
Criterion referencing, clarity of outcomes and the
development of ‘content standards’
Social justice and educational inclusion
Summative and formative assessment
• Changes in Assessment over 25+ years:
More coursework, practical work, oral work, project work, fieldwork
More modular and incremental assessment + re-sits
More formative assessment and feedback
So…explanation of rising scores?
i) Some element of a genuine rise in standards driven by better socio-economic conditions of students, higher
expectations of educational outcomes by students, parents and teachers,
and better teaching
ii) an increasingly more focused concentration on passing exams,
by both teachers (‘teaching to the test’)
and the majority of students (extrinsic motivation),
because of the perceived importance of educational success in
institutional accountability and individual life chances.
iii) the increased transparency of modular, criterion-referenced
assessment systems,
which affords teachers and students much more opportunity
to improve grades through, coaching, specific feedback and resubmission
of work, and to practice for tests.
The problem: narrowing the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test’
In many [primary] schools the focus of the teaching of English is on those
parts of the curriculum on which there are likely to be questions in national
tests…History and, more so, geography continued to be marginalized …In
[secondary] schools…the experience of English had become narrower…as
teachers focused on tests and examinations...There was a similar tension in
(OfSTED 2006 pp.52-56)
In an effort to drive up national standards, too much emphasis has been
placed on a single set of tests and this has been to the detriment of some
aspects of the curriculum and some students
(Parliamentary Select Committee reported on BBC 13 May 2008)
There are considerable concerns…that the system is too ‘high stakes’, which
can lead to unintended consequences such as over-rehearsal and ‘teaching to
the test’
(Bew Report on KS2 Testing 2011, p. 9)
• International evidence is similar, this isn’t just an issue for the UK
• All systems which try to use assessment for accountability purposes, and
use test results as targets, rather than measures, face the same issues,
• e.g. USA:
changes included a narrowing of the curriculum and instruction
toward tested topics and even toward certain problems styles
or formats. Teachers also reported focusing more on
students near the proficient cut-score…
(Hamilton et. al. 2007, US National Science Foundation
Evaluation of NCLB, Summary: p. xix)
• NB Also other human service systems – health service, banking, etc. when measures become used as targets, this corrupts the measure.
Also the issue of coursework and feedback:
…greater transparency of intended learning outcomes and the criteria
by which they are judged, and…Clarity in assessment procedures [and]
processes…has underpinned the widespread use of coaching, practice
and provision of formative feedback to boost individual and institutional
achievement.…However…such transparency encourages
instrumentalism…transparency of objectives coupled with extensive use
of coaching and practice to help learners meet them is in danger of
removing the challenge of learning and reducing the quality and validity
of outcomes achieved. This might be characterized as a move from
assessment of learning, through the currently popular idea of
assessment for learning, to assessment as learning, where assessment
procedures and practices come completely to dominate the learning
experience, and ‘criteria compliance’ comes to replace ‘learning’
(Torrance 2007 p. 282)
Confidence in the qualifications and assessment system has been
diminishing...The usefulness of the system has been eroded by the
politicisation of assessment outcomes, by universities’ loss of
confidence in A levels as a certificate of readiness for university-level
study, by employers’ loss of confidence in GCSEs and A levels as
certification of relevant knowledge and skills, and by the
disproportionate burden placed by external assessment on pupils,
teachers and schools. The volume of external assessment has also
grown enormously….This process has undermined the credibility of
teacher and school assessment, as well as limiting and undermining
(Sykes Review 2010, p.4)
Michael Gove, 17/09/12, on the proposed new ‘EBC’:
changes made to GCSEs, specifically the introduction of modules and the
expansion of coursework, controlled assessment, undermined the
credibility of exams...We believe it is time to tackle grade inflation and
dumbing down. And we believe it is time to…restore rigour to our
examinations…We want to ensure that modules - which encourage bitesize learning and spoon-feeding, teaching to the test and gaming of the
system – go…We want to remove controlled assessment and
coursework …
Elizabeth Truss (schools minister on reform of A-level) 23/1/13:
Pupils spend too much time thinking about exams and resits of exams
that encourage a 'learn and forget' approach to studying…
We want to end the treadmill of repeated exams…We want questions
that encourage students to think and prepare for university study. Not a
satnav series of exams.
• Pressure for change has produced a plateau and then downturn in results:
GCSE summer exams (i.e. headline figures), A*-C:
A-level summer exams A* + A:
• NB reduction of 0.7% of all entries = c.6000 fewer A* and As
• Also, while KS2 results continue to edge up into the 80%+ range at level 4,
the new grammar & punctuation test is lower (2013: 74% level 4) and only
75% reach level 4 in reading, writing & maths
Proposals for change:
English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC) to focus on:
Maths, English, Science, Language(s), History/Geography
Implication: narrow the curriculum
Reform of GCSE/EBC exams & A-level: terminal exam papers at the end of 2
Implication: reduce sample of work available for assessment and
produce invalid and unreliable assessment
Move to 9 grades at GCSE/EBC from 9-1, initially in English Lang. & Lit. and
Maths, c.20 other GCSE subjects to follow
Implication: more distinction at top end but can grades be so
finely calibrated? Will 9-1 be understood?
NB also new test of grammar, punctuation and spelling introduced at KS2 in
2013…and OfSTED Chief Inspector, Michael Wilshaw, has called for
reintroduction of tests at 7 and 14
But the issue is not about the modes and methods of assessment per se it is about the volume of assessment and the pressure to produce results –
• In August 2012, JCQ issued:
• 2,308,527 GCE results. This figure includes:
• 861,819 results for GCE A-level
• 1,350,345 results for GCE AS
6,636 results for Applied GCE double award A-level
32,447 results for the Applied GCE single award A-level
7,113 results for Applied GCE double award AS
50,167 results for the Applied GCE single award AS
5,638,240 GCSE results. This figure includes:
5,225,288 GCSE Full Courses
371,352 GCSE Short Courses
41,600 GCSE Double Award
(JCQ website)
• The ‘Educationalist case’ for wide range of assessment methods:
issues of teaching, learning and inclusion:
• Social & Economic Need/Curriculum Change:
developing new skills and understandings investigation, problem-solving, analysing, applying open rather than closed tasks
in naturally occurring or ‘authentic’ settings
• Teacher/Assessor Expertise:
use of local circumstances and resources,
including more flexible teaching methods and learning
detailed knowledge of candidate built up over time
• Responsiveness to Students:
rendering academic/scholarly work more relevant/meaningful/useful
shorter term goals
formative feedback from teachers/tutors
recognising achievement other than the ‘academic’
self/peer assessment and the development of understanding
• Inclusion/Equity:
Combined impact of all of the above focussing on what students
know, understand and can do in different circumstances
The ‘Examiner case’: issues of fitness-for-purpose, reliability and validity
Complementary assessment of same objectives as written papers re. subject
i.e. increasing the size of the sample of assessed work, undertaken under
more ‘authentic’ circumstances - e.g. open book exams (reliability)
Assessment of other objectives:
broadening the scope of the sample of assessed work (validity)
Assessment of objectives where evidence is ephemeral:
broadening the quality of assessed work
e.g. speaking & listening, practical work in situ (fitness for
Assessment of unanticipated outcomes;
broadening the responsiveness of assessment (validity)
To reiterate:
EBC to focus on:
Maths, English, Science, Language(s), History/Geography
Implication: narrow the curriculum
Reform of exam methods: terminal exam papers at the end of 2 years
Implication: reduce sample of work available for assessment and
produce invalid and unreliable assessment
The issue is not about the modes and methods of assessment per se it is
about the size of the system and the pressure to produce results –
Gove has seen there is a problem, but come up with the wrong solution
i) just because assessment can be observed to have negative
backwash effects on the curriculum and teaching, this doesn’t
necessarily mean that the same mechanism is available to harness
these effects to beneficial purposes;
ii) the impact of ‘assessment for learning’ on students’ knowledge
and understanding will inevitably be mediated by the
accountability context in which it operates;
iii) criterion-referencing enables the structure of knowledge
domains and the processes of assessment associated with them to
be more transparent, such that more students can achieve more
success, but the very nature of that success threatens its
credibility i.e. the inferences that can be drawn from it
Assessment intersects with every aspect of an educational system:
at the level of the individual student and teacher and their various
experiences (positive or negative) of the assessment process;
at the level of the school or similar educational institution and how
it is organized and held to account;
and at the level of the educational and social system with respect
to what knowledge is endorsed and which people are legitimately
accredited for future economic and social leadership.
Implications for policy,
minimise the impact of accountability on student experience:
The greater the scale and scope of the testing system,
the simpler the tests will be and hence the narrower the curriculum will
The more individual student achievement is tied to system accountability the
more accountability measures will dominate student experience
restrict testing to a politically necessary minimum;
attend to monitoring standards by use of small national samples;
re-conceptualise the integration of curriculum development and assessment
i.e. put resources and support into re-thinking curriculum goals for the 21st
century and developing illustrative examples of high quality assessment tasks
that underpin these goals, for teachers to use as appropriate
include a broader range of indicators of educational experience and
outcomes in accountability and inspection regimes
• Education as induction into knowledge is successful to the extent
that it makes the behavioural outcomes of the students
(Stenhouse 1975 p. 82)
Torrance H. (2007) ‘Assessment as Learning? How the use of explicit learning objectives,
assessment criteria and feedback in post-secondary education and training can come to
dominate learning’ Assessment in Education 14, 3, 281-294
Torrance H. (2011) ‘Using Assessment to Drive the Reform of Schooling: Time to Stop
Pursuing the Chimera?’ British Journal of Educational Studies 59, 4, 459–485
Torrance H (Ed. 2013) Educational Assessment and Evaluation, Four volume set in Routledge
Major Themes in Education Series, Routledge
Wyse D. & Torrance H. (2009) ‘The development and consequences of national curriculum
assessment for primary education in England’ Educational Research 51, 2, 213-238
See also: Joint Council for Qualifications: