18 Aug 2022

Now is the Moment to Transform Education and Assessment

This article was originally published on Catherine Millett’s LinkedIn profile.

Among the many aphorisms attributed to Winston Churchill is the expression, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Churchill had postwar challenges in mind, but it’s a fitting bit of wisdom for addressing the structural flaws in education that were pushed to the crisis point by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on quality and equity in education for learners at all levels throughout the world. It’ll be years before we know its full impact on students’ academic, cognitive, and social and emotional development, in part because that impact is ongoing.

Still, three things are clear:

  • Schools, districts, institutions, and entire education systems were woefully unprepared for the specific conditions of the pandemic;
  • Our systems of education have long been structurally ill-equipped to prepare students for success in complex societies;
  • And systemic transformation, rather than incremental reform, is the most promising path to the equitable, high-functioning education systems required by 21st-century societies, economies, and workplaces.

Given the likelihood of future mass dislocations, whether from viral pandemics, environmental catastrophes or political conflict, the longer we wait to rebuild education, the more devastating the next event will be.

Now is the time to transforming education systems so that they are organized and equipped to prepare every young person for THEIR futures — and for our COLLECTIVE future. 

As the Big Change report A New Education Story put it: “Education systems around the world are at a crossroads; a moment of huge challenge and opportunity when, perhaps more than at any other time in living memory, decisions made now about what happens next for learning, will have deep and lasting effects for the future.”

We cannot let this crisis go to waste.

As Goes Education, So Goes Assessment

“By integrating a wider range of assessments and ways to recognise learning into the learning process, assessment and accreditation can be used to help close equity gaps and to accelerate transformation.” – A New Education Story, Big Change

My organization, ETS, exists to create opportunity through research, assessment and the development of products and services to improve teaching and learning. 

Assessment is a core component of education. So if we are going to transform education, then we are going to transform assessment. We need to move beyond high-stakes, summative tests, and focus instead on supporting learner-centered, competency-based, and culturally and socially relevant teaching, learning and assessment. 

Thanks to advances in the learning sciences and the development of such educational technologies as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, that transformation was already underway when the pandemic struck.

Today, assessment is in position not only to undergo transformation alongside teaching and learning, but to help shape the transformation and the future of education.

For test developers, the challenge is to combine the insights and the technologies to design assessments that can advance teaching and learning, monitor student progress, empower student engagement and individual agency, and support system accountability.

As for equity, if personalized learning is possible, then every student stands to benefit with no opportunity cost to any other student.

Though these trends were underway pre-COVID, at ETS and within the assessment industry generally, the pandemic ignited the urgency.

At ETS, we are undertaking research on how to ensure that teaching, learning and measurement accomplish several purposes: 1) create opportunities for students to pursue paths of learning suited to their learning styles; 2) develop the means by which they can demonstrate and memorialize their learning; 3) account for and leverage students’ linguistic and cultural diversities; and 4) measure and support development of the social and emotional skills critical to success in society.

At ETS’s Policy Evaluation and Research Center, we are working with:

  • Vitae, a public charity in the U.K., to introduce and promote use of its Researcher Development Framework in the U.S. The Framework will aid prospective and current graduate learners in understanding the skills needed to develop, document and present their skills and knowledge to tertiary education audiences, employers and other important stakeholders.
  • Mastery Transcript Consortium, an organization in the U.S., to learn more about a rising movement away from reliance on traditional transcripts comprising mostly course names and grades, and toward a more multi-dimensional, holistic reflection of learners as unique individuals and the goals they set out for their learning — all in a format and medium that best conveys what they know and can do.
  • AREA9 Lyceum of Denmark to develop a new tool we call Abubble. It uses formative assessment questions and data points on engagement and meta-learning to continuously assess the learner’s knowledge and confidence; help determine what content the learner should meet next; what activity to deliver to the learner; and how best to help the learner when help is required.
  • Numerous higher education institutions and stakeholders to improve admissions in the U.S. through such approaches as holistic assessment of applicants.

These are just a few projects that explore what new forms of assessments can look like in practice. Rethinking Assessment, for example in the UK, builds on evidence from around the world to create the learner profile framework.

Time for Change

History has given us the opportunity to undertake real transformation in education. It is an exciting prospect. But it requires a continuing sense of urgency. Given the stakes for us all, I hope that if and when things truly return to normal post-pandemic, education and assessment aren’t among them.

Back to News and Latest Ideas