Our ability to adapt to new situations is key to success. However, change often happens too slowly for us to recognize it, so it takes a sudden, dramatic shift in circumstances to spur a reaction. Despite worldwide efforts to modernize schools, public education systems have been notoriously resistant to change. Of course, it requires more effort to adapt large organizations, but there is another major factor that keeps school systems from evolving—nostalgia for our own childhood experiences and the misplaced notion that education systems can be measured by the success of their students in high-stakes testing.
Assessment is essential to good teaching. Teachers need to be able to see where students are in the learning process, how effective their teaching has been, and where they should be focusing additional instruction. Likewise, students need to be able to see what learning strategies or styles work for them and where they need to concentrate more time and effort. However, a one-size-fits-all approach to testing is not appropriate for the diverse student populations that now inhabit our schools.
School exams and assessments are only now starting to change after decades in which they remained the same despite massive demographic shifts in the makeup of our societies, fundamental developments in communications, and striking swings in priorities.
The pandemic and resulting school closures acted as a catalyst for change across the education sector, much of which looks likely to continue once COVID ceases to be an existential threat. In the UK, where centuries of reliance on standardized testing have been the norm, university entrance exams have been replaced by teacher assessment for the second year in a row. In the U.S., more than two-thirds of the 2,330 bachelor-degree institutions will not require students to submit ACT/SAT scores to be considered for fall 2022 enrollment (see p. 10).
The crisis has helped to focus attention on the long-existing inadequacies in our approaches to assessment and in particular our oversimplification of the process in the pursuit of increasing “accuracy” without gauging its impact on student learning.
A relatively new 21st-century skill—learning to learn—is now having an impact on teachers’ approaches to assessment, and experts are calling for more time to be available in teacher education courses for teachers to develop their own theoretical understanding and practice of assessment.
Opportunity gaps have not been closing despite studies showing that results from high-stakes tests were not a reliable indicator of eventual college success. Just as we’ve learned how important it is to adapt teaching to different learning styles, we can now start to adapt our methods of assessment to suit the diversity of skills and approaches that our students have to offer, while reexamining the very purpose of testing to ensure that it benefits students without judging them by some long-outdated standards.