Colouring New Assessment Futures

In June 2022 my colleague Dr Darrall Thompson, Adjunct Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney will deliver a mini-keynote titled: Colouring New Assessment Futures at the Assessment in Higher Education Conference in Manchester, UK.

Darrall worked in the UK for 15 years as a Designer and Design Educator, and as he says this experience was: an important background in my approaches to improving assessment, and indeed the title of this mini keynote. Here, he lays out the problem:

Assessment tends to focus students’ attention on marks and grades, extrinsically motivated by a reward system, using measurements that are losing relevance in a changing world.

Darrall is a big fan of the scholarship of Howard Gardner, Research Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who in 1993 said:

It is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all the varied human intelligences.

However, as Darrall states regrettably:

Assessment in universities [and in schools] doesn’t seem to be heading towards valuing the varied human intelligences that Gardner was clearly passionate about nearly 30 years ago.

Earlier in his role as a Senior Lecturer at UTS he had already developed his own marking software that shifted the focus on marks onto wider graduate attributes. UTS commercialised this product known as Review (2011) and its available to other faculties within the university and more broadly to other institutions.

The team of Faculty course directors at UTS at the time, decided to write degree learning goals under FIVE meta categories and use the software, to link and colour code assessment criteria (known as CAPRI) are very similar to Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future.

This assessment shake-up was an attempt to develop a shared language between staff and students as Darrall describes:

It’s still a work in progress, but at least students and staff were focusing their criteria on meaningful attribute or capability categories rather than marks for subjects. Despite good feedback from staff and students at the university level, assessment that awards grades for content knowledge, has to be rewarding broader capabilities at a much earlier age ie in high school.

In a two-year research project that commenced in 2016 one NSW public high school principal decided to seriously implement a whole school assessment change using UTS ReView and CAPRI, using the five meta categories. He could see that the Australian Curriculum’s General Capability framework was not useable for assessment and was leading to more standardised testing in schools.

The principal and his staff, developed their own sub-categories of CAPRI for all assessment in years 7-10 (students aged 12-17); through leadership and commitment to change in a series of professional development workshops with teachers and students Darrall notes:

I was shocked by the fragmented timetabling in schools, the amount of standardised testing, the requirements of content delivery and the bizarre amounts of documentation.  At the time I was thinking, teachers are at the first stage of a revolution. Suffering in silence without a strategy.

Darrall believes there is now a strategy, and he’s going to take it all the way to university entry level. After two years of implementation the school won Australian 2019 Government High School of the Year, and bravely presented the school’s story the same year with its principal at a major Australian technology conference in an address titled: 22nd Century Skills: Future Proofing Assessment.

The school has followed through with assessment change. Not only did the principal manage to bring all staff, students, and parents on board, but the state education authority as well. Now, he and his staff have the beginnings of implementation for the final two years of schooling (Years 11-12). Darrall reports that:

Already other high school principals are wanting to learn from this example and it’s ok if this happens one school at a time, because they will own the process and as the school’s leader said to him recently: it’s an exciting journey.

There are more high schools in NSW on board in a new research study Darrall is leading; if you would like to find out more, please contact him here

Go well in Manchester!

Image credit: The Easton Pearson Archive: Langley Jacket (2006) – see the Exhibition here