The Future of Assessment

I’ve been thinking a lot about assessment lately.  On campus, departments have been preparing their annual assessment reports that demonstrate how student learning outcomes are being assessed programmatically.  I’m also helping to plan an assessment workshop for colleagues to broaden the strategies they use to assess their students’ learning.  Across my different roles and activities, it seems a little like I’ve landed in “Assessment Land.”

Assessment Land isn’t a horrible place. In fact, assessment is a really critical aspect of what we do as educators.  We need to successfully assess student learning so we can provide feedback that leads to improvement.  Our assessments are also important because they can help communicate to outside accrediting bodies that our students have developed the competencies required for their desired fields.  During these assessment discussions, however, I’ve been wondering what the future of assessment is going to look like. While there will undoubtedly be a shift from traditional paper and pencil measures, with what will they be replaced? It’s easy to say that future assessments will involve technology in some way.  But I worry about what that will look like.  For instance, my ten year-old son came home last week and complained about a new assessment system his elementary school was using.  After doing a little research, I found that the system involves answering multiple-choice “diagnostic” questions that would help to inform how his teacher would plan individualized instruction.  While individualized instruction is a respectable goal, when I spoke with his teacher recently, she said sometimes “it feels like we’re assessing more than we’re teaching.” If that’s the future of assessment, there are difficult days ahead.

Thankfully, there are other voices that are helping to offer other visions of the future.  Take the 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) developed by the US Office of Educational Technology.   The plan outlines some characteristics of “next generation assessments.”  Next gen assessments would leverage technology to enable more “flexibility, responsiveness and contextualization.”  Instead of occurring after learning, next gen assessments would be embedded throughout the learning process and offer feedback in real time.  The assessment would also be designed universally so that all students could participate on an equal footing.  Rather than simple multiple choice questions, next gen assessments could leverage video and audio tools to tap into more complex means of demonstrating learning.  Lastly, next gen assessments will be adaptive and respond and evolve depending on students’ knowledge base and learning needs.

While the NETP offers a great vision for the future of assessments, I’d like to share another voice.  Recently I reread Karl Kapp’s 2012 book The Gamification of Learning Instruction.  While I’ve read the book several times, I find that different parts resonate with me each time.  This reading, his section on the game element of feedback stood out.  Since assessment and feedback are so closely link pedagogically, I kept envisioning how his view of feedback could inform future assessment design.  In the book, Kapp discusses game designer Robin Hunicke’s construct of “juicy feedback.” I honestly love the term “juicy feedback” but I love the characteristics that juicy feedback involves even more.  Twisting this a bit, I offer “juicy assessment” as a possible future.  Like juicy feedback, juicy assessment would be a sensory experience that coherently captures the outcomes and objectives it’s intended to assess.  It would be a continuous process that emerged from students’ work and involve provide balanced feedback that was actionable.  Most importantly, juicy assessment would be inviting and fresh, offering means and metrics that motivated and engaged.

While we’re presented with glimpses of the future of assessment, the visions couldn’t be more different. One sees technology as a means of efficiently measuring large numbers of students in an almost industrial way.  The other leverages technology to expand when and how we assess individual students, tailoring strategies to students’ needs and broadening what counts as evidence of student learning.  I honestly don’t know which future will come to fruition but I’m hopeful that Assessment Land will continue to be a place that I enjoy visiting.

References:

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Office of Educational Technology. (2016). National Education Technology Plan – Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Education.

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