Approaches to assessment

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The use of assessment in education shares many of the aims and challenges that teachers generally have: to encourage yet not give a false impression of strengths and weaknesses; to critically review specific areas but maintain a holistic perspective; to support learning, but not spoon-feed it or detract from the learner's autonomy. This is a tall order. Here we feature three inspirational practices of learner assessment which are responding to these challenges.

Junior Cycle in Ireland: Assessment Toolkit

The Junior Cycle of post-primary education in Ireland has seen many changes since 2014. Chief among them was a new approach to assessment, which places the student at the centre of the learning process. For example, in the new Junior Cycle, final exams are of secondary importance, assessment is a task for the whole school, and formative assessment is preferred over summative assessment. In other words, the objective is “to enhance learning, and not just measure it” (OECD, 2013).

Underpinning Ireland's new approach is the Assessment and Reporting platform, with a host of well-researched materials:

These booklets are accompanied by videos, slide presentations and facilitator’s notes, which can be downloaded from the respective sections.

Use the links to explore Ireland’s Junior Cycle, for example to learn more about success criteria and learning intentions, or about the difference between a reminder prompt and a scaffold prompt.

Inclusive education in Estonia: strong student assessment in a small education system

Another country with a sound assessment framework is Estonia. Through a combination of school autonomy and use of central student assessments for formative purposes (OECD, 2016), the country has brought assessment back to the classroom level.

This approach is especially beneficial in the case of special educational needs (SEN) students. Since the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act of 2010, the management of education in Estonia has put a lot of emphasis on inclusive education, and it has clearly borne fruit. For one thing, teachers consult with SEN students and their parents to personalise their assessment. For another, schools are able to adjust the study time, content, process and environment of SEN learners. They can even draw up an individual curriculum based on a student’s abilities – and on the recommendation of a counselling committee, replace the learning outcomes defined in the national curriculum, or exempt the learner from a compulsory subject.

Of course, there are still areas for improvement, as indicated in a 2016 research report (available in Estonian).

CO-LAB: Collaborative Education Lab

The CO-LAB project advocated more collaboration in school, both among students and among teachers. To that end, it launched a series of country workshops and a MOOC – and, naturally, the topic of assessment was raised. The Conclusions and Recommendations, Final Evaluation, Online Course, Country Reports and Code of Conduct all broach the subject in their own way.

Professor Deirdre Butler demonstrated that a four-question rubric can be used in the assessment of collaborative learning:

  • Are the students working together?

  • Do they share responsibility?

  • Do they make substantive decisions?

  • Is their work interdependent?

Assessment was cited as one of the main challenges that collaborative learning posed to teachers and policymakers. At the classroom level, collaborative tasks were difficult to assess visibly and fairly, and there was some concern about the parents’ reaction, as they might fear their children’s grades would go down, especially in the final examinations. At the policy level, both the work of schools and the expectations made of them are built around the premise of individual assessment, and such an approach is difficult to implement in a coherent way across the system.

CO-LAB participants did not consider these issues insurmountable: most of them agreed that national curricula should include collaborative and social competences, as seen in the Irish core curriculum.

(Skip ahead to 2:20 - 3:04 for more on the topic of assessment.)

The project ran from December 2015 to January 2018. It was coordinated by European Schoolnet and funded by Erasmus+.

To discover ongoing and past EU-funded projects in school education, please go to the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform.