As we continue to move through the Information Age, we are all required to learn new skills to keep up. At the most basic level, workers — and citizens in general — need to have a high level of digital literacy to do their jobs and remain a part of the digitally connected world. But technological knowledge is only the beginning.
The Information Age has catalyzed, and accentuated, problems such as inequality, radicalism, mis- and disinformation, and lack of access. With these issues in the background, it’s crucial to develop so-called “soft skills,” or what are now also being recognized as “power skills or essential skills” such as communication, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, emotional intelligence and/or self-efficacy, and creativity, not only in our work lives but our personal lives, as well.
Education and assessment can offer us opportunities to develop these skills we need to become useful members of the global workforce and society, but are they doing so right now? Are assessment practices helping or hindering us from reaching our goals?
What Are We Doing Wrong in Assessment?
Below are two specific areas that need course correction if you see them in your own practice.
- The assessment relevance issue
“Standardized tests or licensure/certification exams created by faculty and other bodies, often intentionally or unintentionally, end up primarily measuring knowledge recall, which is the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Unfortunately, students who do well on these assessments do not necessarily have the deep knowledge needed of the subject matter nor do they know how to transfer that knowledge from one context to another,” says Dr. Divya Bheda, Director of Education and Assessment at ExamSoft. “In other words, these types of assessments don’t always test the skills, abilities, knowledge, habits, behaviors, attitudes, and dispositions — at least not often in the way that is needed or can serve as a practice opportunity to prepare students for their future realities — from employer expectations to good citizenship.”
Many educators score assessments and assignments using rubric metrics and assignment expectations that don’t support students in their future careers. “Is it really necessary for a student to be able to write an essay using APA style guidelines for an assignment paper in a particular field?” asks Dr. Bheda. For most careers, the answer is no. The ability to write a succinct email explaining the key ideas in bullet form will take them further. Again, depending on the profession, being capable of delivering a two-minute elevator pitch that mimics networking or a five-minute presentation may have more value than writing a 20-page paper. These examples speak to the common disconnect between assessment content, grading methods, and the skills required in the workplace.
- The equity issue
Current practices in assessment aren’t always equitable. Using the example of standardized tests once more, an article in Educational Psychology questions “the fairness of using standardized test results to predict potential performance of disadvantaged students who have previously had few educational resources.” Test scores for these students are often more indicative of their socio-economic circumstances than their academic potential. This is just one example of whether the assessment expectations, modality, or format and delivery are in line with building and capturing the essential skills needed for our students to be strong global citizens and workforce members of the future.
Solutions to the Current Problems in Assessment
The good news is that there are solutions to many of the current problems with assessment. And they start with awareness. Thoughtful and carefully considered assessments can move the needle toward equity and student success, giving all students the shot they need at a successful future. We offer two such strategies below.
- Authentic Assessments
Authentic assessments, also known as relevant or performance-based assessments, relate directly to a student or candidate’s future career by requiring them to demonstrate knowledge and skills in a simulation of real-world situations, according to Wiley University Services. Patient simulations are good examples of authentic assessments in healthcare education. An example in business education would be asking students to develop a business plan for a company related to their field of interest. Authentic assessments also allow students to explore the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy — application, analysis, evaluation, and creativity.
When students pass an authentic assessment, it proves that they have developed the skills necessary to perform relevant tasks in the workplace. Additionally, Dr. Bheda notes, “It makes the education and assessment process more meaningful and rewarding for students who have very limited time and/or money and have multiple other responsibilities on their plate like caretaking or earning for their families.” Authentic assessments better prepare such students and adult learners because it directly supports a successful career and thus, increases equity as well.
- Transparent Assignment Design
For ease of discussion, we’ll use the terms “assignment” and “assessment” interchangeably, as assignments are just a type of assessment.
According to an article in Faculty Focus, “Transparent assignment design is the process of designing assignments so that the process of learning is more explicit for students. In other words, transparent assignments shed light on the assignment’s purpose, task, and criteria.”
A study published by the Association of American Colleges & Universities shows that transparent assignment design improves graduation rates, increases academic confidence, and reduces dropout rates. The effect was even more drastic with first-generation students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Creating a transparent assignment doesn’t have to be difficult. Start with these three steps, to ensure that your assignment meets the criteria of transparency.
- Carefully explain what students will gain from the assignment and why those skills and that knowledge will be valuable to them, both at school and in their future careers.
- Give detailed, explicit instructions of each step in the process and potential challenges other students have faced in completing the assignment. Invite them to ask questions and request feedback along the way as they complete it.
- Share the rubrics or checklist you’ll be using to grade the assignment before students submit their work.
Better Assessments for a Brighter Future
As the needs of employers have changed, the methods to prepare students for successful careers also need to change. The increased demand for problem solving and critical thinking skills in the job market means that educators must take steps to help students develop these skills. Assessments can no longer just test knowledge recall — they must encourage critical thinking and problem solving while remaining relevant to the job market — and exam content that is inclusive of learners from all backgrounds promotes equitable student outcomes.
Building assessments — both formative and summative — with these guidelines in mind can make a meaningful difference for students, workers, organizations, and society at large.