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How does assessment need to change?

As ways of learning change and industry needs evolve, assessment and assessment practices become even more important for individuals and education systems alike. Data gathered during the future of English roundtables highlighted two related and relevant concepts. Firstly, individuals require different types of proficiency for different tasks in different contexts. This has implications for teaching, learning and assessment, particularly as we expect that aligning these components will continue to be of interest in the future. Secondly, English is no longer seen as an isolated item; instead, it is seen as part of a range of knowledge, skills and expertise, captured by the concept of 21st-century skills and required for a dynamic globalised world.

This presents two challenges for current assessment practices: firstly, assessment needs to be more creative and contextually innovative in order to develop and measure individuals more holistically; and secondly, language assessment literacy (LAL) needs to be considered more seriously for all relevant stakeholders, including teachers, learners, parents, decision makers and employers, and, at the same time, concepts of LAL need to adapt to be relevant in this changing assessment landscape. In order to use assessment appropriately, everyone who works with it needs to know enough about it in order to do their jobs effectively.

Assessment for employment was one of the concerns for many roundtable participants. Our data revealed that in some contexts, employers are sceptical of scores attained on standardised English tests, claiming that they do not realistically reflect the English language capability of prospective employees, and employers sometimes use their own assessments as additional evaluation. In light of the changes in ways of learning and of moves to more instrumental needs for English, models of assessment may need to be updated to include more skills-based assessment that is more flexible and personalised to ensure employees are better equipped for the world of work.

If we then look at assessment in basic education in the light of the challenges presented above, there could be a bigger role and more focussed attention on assessment for learning (AfL) – sometimes referred to as formative assessment. AfL can provide feedback to learners about both their strengths and areas for improvement. This information can help teachers and learners to plan realistic, individual goals that can help learners to map their own progress and teachers to plan more effectively. However, there can be challenges in implementation, one of which is the lack of teacher preparation or training in this area. This sometimes comes from a lack of understanding by decision makers of what AfL is, its role in teaching and learning, and its potential benefits and pitfalls, which in turn can mean teachers are often not provided with the support or autonomy required to fully implement AfL.

The focus on AfL is not to say that assessment of learning (AoL) – or summative assessment – is any less important; on the contrary, the aim would be for AfL to galvanise the processes of learning to enable learners to become autonomous and empowered to take control of their learning and their goals. With these skills and strategies available to them, approaching tests and exams becomes more manageable and less daunting.

Image courtesy of Mat Wright
Mina Patel
Mina Patel
Mina Patel is an Assessment Researcher at the British Council. She is the lead author of the Future of English: Global Perspectives.
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