The Value of Flexibility in Assessment

Flexible assessment value

As we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility is critical for organizations of all kinds. The flexibility that educational institutions demonstrated in the pandemic era, while remarkable under the circumstances, left something to be desired. Luckily, with recent advancements in edtech and efforts to promote equal access, many schools were well on their way to increased flexibility before it became a necessity.

Assessment has continued to present challenges in the past few years. Educational institutions had to quickly pivot to remote testing without warning, which required effective methods to decentralize formerly in-person assessments while preserving test integrity.

But flexibility in assessment isn’t just about social distancing and remote testing. Flexibility gives educators the ability to adapt question formats to the subject matter; it can have financial benefits; and it can increase equity in education.

The Increase in Online Education

While trends show a significant uptick in recent years, online education is nothing new. In fact, the first online education program for consumers came in 1989. Since then, the technology available to provide online education has grown exponentially and led to an increase in the numbers of institutions offering these programs. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of students enrolled in fully online degree programs rose from 3.8% to 10.6%, and in 2021, 84% of undergraduate students saw “some or all” of their classes moved online due to the pandemic.

As we can see, the growth of online learning began well before the pandemic struck but increased significantly due to social distancing precautions.

Flexible Assessments for Four Education Modalities

In the time since online education began, we’ve seen three primary course delivery modalities rise to the forefront: online, hybrid, and HyFlex — all of which require flexible digital assessment options. And while in-person courses don’t necessarily require flexible methods to deliver assessment, the pandemic showed us the importance of having an option to do so.

On-campus courses benefit from assessment flexibility as much or more than the others. Not only can these programs benefit from a digital assessment platform for in-class assessments (both summative and formative), they can also easily pivot to remote work when necessary.

The HyFlex course format was created to cater to students’ needs, giving equivalent options to students in choosing how they consume content. Instructors hold class in person and record those classes for students to watch synchronously (live) or asynchronously (when students have time). The flexible capabilities of a complete, digital assessment platform allow students to take exams online or in class, and if the need arises, students attending class can take assessments remotely.

Hybrid courses, like HyFlex courses, entail both in-class and remote course delivery as well as assessments; each student participates in the same offerings, participating in the same activities that alternate between on-premise and online. With a flexible remote assessment platform, instructors can administer exams at any time, no matter where students are.

Fully online courses also require secure, remote digital assessments and a platform that offers the flexibility to administer exams to students, whenever and wherever they log on.

No matter which method educators may choose to deliver assessments, the tests themselves need to be flexible enough to accommodate the subject matter, course material, and learning objectives.

Exam Items for Any Subject

Many assessment platforms only offer a few item types, such as true/false, multiple choice, and essay. While these types work well for some subjects — the humanities — they may not work well for others — like healthcare. Medical schools and health sciences programs have broader needs, requiring a testing solution flexible enough to support rubrics-based assessments, including Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) and Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) or any observational assessment.

Nursing programs may also benefit from flexibility in item creation as they seek to prepare students for the Next Generation NCLEX®, launching in April 2023. Nursing candidates are required to pass the NCLEX become licensed RNs, and the upcoming version of this high-stakes exam includes new item types. Nursing students and programs need a flexible assessment platform that includes these new item types — Extended Multiple Response, Extended Drag & Drop, Cloze, Enhanced Hot Spot, and Matrix/Grid — to help prepare for the exam.

Flexibility in Assessment to Support Equity

In recent years, college admissions exams, such as the SAT and ACT, have come under scrutiny for bias. Prospective university students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and other marginalized groups seem to be disadvantaged by various aspects of the test, including exam item content and access to the exams themselves.

In 2019, students filed a lawsuit against the University of California system to end a “test-optional” policy, which students said put students of color and those with disabilities at a disadvantage. In 2021, the Board of Regents made a landmark decision to no longer take those scores into account as part of the admissions process.

According to The UCSD Guardian, students enrolling for the Fall semester of 2025 will need to take a new UC-specific standardized test, which is still being developed. Former UC President Janet Napolitano said, “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect of incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”

Many universities across the nation are considering similar options.

Creating an admissions test specific to a university system is not an easy task. There is a lot to consider, including content development, item types, mode of delivery, psychometrics, avoiding unintended bias, and exam security methods.

Universities that decide to create their own entrance exams need a complete, flexible assessment platform has the tools necessary to develop a process that aligns with their testing needs.

The Flexibility You Need, in One Assessment Platform

ExamSoft’s all-in-one assessment platform has everything you need to create and deliver customized exams. With top-notch security features, maintaining academic integrity is easy, whether test-takers are at home or on campus.

The ExamSoft platform offers tools for rubrics-based assessments, actionable student and course reports, and curriculum (outcomes) mapping. Depending on the subject matter, ExamSoft offers pre-written question banks to ease the assessment-writing process. With psychometric analysis, coupled with categorical analysis, exam creators can be sure their exam items are a reliable measure of learning outcomes.

In these uncertain times, flexibility in assessment is critical. Be ready with ExamSoft. Schedule a demo today to learn more.


University of Denver: Distance Education and the Evolution of Online Learning in the United States

Guru99: 100+ Must Know Online Learning Statistics in 2022

National Center for Education Statistics: 84% of All Undergraduates Experienced Some or All Their Classes Moved to Online-Only Instruction Due to the Pandemic

Next Generation NCLEX News: Approved NGN Item Types

The Guardian: UC Agrees to No Longer Consider ACT/SAT Scores in Admissions

The New York Times: University of California Will No Longer Consider SAT and ACT Scores

Published: May 2, 2022

Updated: May 27, 2022

Related Resources