Tony Stack, a Canadian educator, was developing a new way to assess children even before the coronavirus. The decision to abandon the end-of-year assessments after the outbreak of the pandemic allowed the “deep learning” approach to be put into practice.
“It provided the opportunity for an authentic learning experience, outside of some of the constraints of an exam,” said Stack, Director of Education for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. .
This alternative model, used in 1,300 schools in eight countries, which prioritizes skills and independent thinking “paves the way for a more ethical approach to evaluation,” he explained. “The skills that students need to acquire during the pandemic cannot be assessed in one test,” he added.
Most saw the abrupt cancellation of exams in countries around the world as an unfortunate loss that would reduce the learning and life chances of a cohort of young people. A group of voice educators also saw the opportunity to spend time on the traditional exam system which they deem unfair and outdated.
“The pandemic has exacerbated all of these problems that already existed with exams,” said Bill Lucas, director of the Center for Real-World Learning at the British University of Winchester.
He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardize children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and discourage young people with his unique, rote learning approach.
“Poll after poll, we need creativity, critical thinking and communication. The exams don’t assess these things, ”Mr. Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask ourselves the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’ ‘
Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has garnered support from teachers, union leaders, policymakers and academics.
Among them, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge University neuroscientist who argues that exams like GCSEs taken by 16-year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when adolescent brains are changing. again.
“We need to re-evaluate whether high-intensity, high-stakes national exams, such as GCSEs, are still the optimal way to assess the academic performance of a developing youth,” she wrote at the end of. Last year.
As a new wave of coronavirus causes further lockdowns, reviews scheduled for 2021 are also in play: England said she would replace all formal exams with teacher assessment, while France and Canada said they would assess children using mostly lessons.
Last year’s cancellation of many of the major college entrance tests taken each year by more than 2 million students in the United States has led at least 1,450 colleges and universities to adopt an optional testing policy , according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
Justin Wells, executive director of Envision Learning Partners, a California school network that advocates for alternative assessment approaches, said it underscored how exams were “not resilient.” “I have been skeptical of the power of these tests for some time, but I was shocked at how fragile they are,” he said.
Educators were looking for alternatives to exams long before the pandemic. Qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate already include flexible, project-based learning.
Leading UK private schools, such as Bedales, which have more flexibility on assessments than public schools, have replaced ‘prescriptive’ GCSE exams with tailored qualifications that allow for more creativity and freedom of learning .
In the United States, some schools and districts have adopted “graduate profiles” defining skills or abilities such as compassion, determination or creativity. Shelby County, Kentucky expects students to be responsible collaborators, lifelong learners, and critical thinkers, which are necessary conditions in a “knowledge economy that emphasizes ideas.” and innovations ”.
In Newfoundland, the deep learning method means giving teachers more freedom to assess the students’ pandemic experience, using projects that children design and enjoy.
A math assessment, for example, involved young children putting their knowledge into practice with a recipe. When schools reopened in September, and under no pressure to cover a rigorous knowledge-based curriculum, children were able to spend more time outdoors and learn about nature in safer outdoor classrooms with Covid.
The project-based program at Animas High School in Colorado offers another alternative. Instead of end-of-year tests, students publish “digital portfolio” websites that showcase their work, goals and interests. Older students choose a topic and explore it through a 15-20 page research project, lecture, and local community initiative.
“They learn to immerse themselves in the texts, to engage and to develop well-informed ideas. . . You can’t test this on standardized exams, ”said Jessica Morrison, the school counselor.
Reviews are still very popular. Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the OECD, said interrupting end-of-semester testing was among the pandemic’s “worst mistakes” that would worsen education inequalities.
“It was completely unnecessary and it will have far-reaching consequences,” he said. “You risk leaving an entire generation stigmatized. Without reviews, people will be making so many judgments about people. . . I think exams are an essential part of the solution. “
Will Millard, engagement manager at the Center for Education and Youth think tank in the UK, says discussions about ending exams are overdone. “It would be easy to look with rose-tinted lenses on other systems, but every system has its flaws.
“My opinion is that 2020 may rekindle an affection for exams. It’s not very trendy but I can’t help but feel, considering the fury. . . they might be for a little comeback.
Yet Mr Schleicher also noted that countries with a varied approach to assessment did better in the pandemic than those with a more rigid test-based approach. In England, where classes have been largely abolished for university degrees and where students are given marks based primarily on end-of-year exams, teachers had little to rely on when had to decide the grades.
This led to chaos after the government chose to calculate teenagers’ scores using an algorithm, only to drop them dramatically for grades assessed by teachers after computer decisions were judged. unfair. Countries like France, which usually use lessons and teacher assessment in combination with formal testing, have done better.
“If you have a larger method that you are able to deploy, you have a route through,” Mr. Schleicher said. “If you put all your eggs in one basket, you have a problem.”
Mr Lucas also admits that proper educational assessments are always likely to be a hybrid mix that includes formal testing for key skills such as literacy and numeracy. Beyond that, however, he saw huge scope for a diverse, student-organized and teacher-validated method for assessing young people.
“The real energy now – across the world – is to come over the next two years with research and prototyping that develops truly credible, reliable and valid ways to assess the talents of young people.