Desislava Dimitrova is an assessment expert with over 30 years experience in the educational sector. Having developed her knowledge base through both study and as a teacher in Bulgaria, Desislava was keen to get the answers to some of her most pressing questions around assessment – with the help of Cambridge Assessment Network she has been on a journey to find them.
“My interest in assessment was ignited at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, which is the oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria. During my time at university, I studied for a master’s degree in Pedagogy and Education with the theory of assessment always being my biggest passion.”
I gained a wide experience of assessment across a range of pupil's ages - from the primary stage and beyond.
“After my degree, I worked as a primary school teacher for over 10 years before becoming a Language Assessment and Language Exam officer at the higher education level. For seven years, I worked on the comparison rate and the validity of assessments within my team. This was very interesting work and helped me develop a practical understanding of assessment beyond the context of my experience as a teacher. Due to this time spent in these roles, I gained a wide experience of assessment across a range of pupil's ages - from the primary stage and beyond.”
Fulfilling a dream
In 2014, due to her daughter’s studies, Desislava decided to move to the UK. This not only opened a whole new culture of assessment practice to Desislava, but it also moved her closer to achieving a longstanding dream.
“I had always wanted to study at Cambridge. When I moved over to the UK for family commitments, I felt it was the perfect time to fulfil this ambition. So, I applied for the Postgraduate Advanced Certificate in Educational Studies: Educational Assessment.”
The Postgraduate Advanced Certificate is a 15-month, part time qualification run in partnership with the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and Cambridge Assessment Network. It is designed to directly impact your work as you learn to apply various research methodologies to your professional context.
“It was a course I had been aware of for a while, and I was always looking for the right time to take part in the opportunity. In Bulgaria we do not have such a course – we have professional training but not at the same scope as some of the courses at Cambridge. You can complete the certificate overseas, and I’m sure it’s still a fantastic option, but I wanted to be at the heart of the learning. So, when I came to the UK, I knew it was the right time to partake.”
The learning of the course takes place via a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) with an additional four interactive day schools.
“The material and curriculum of the course is amazing. You start off by focusing on the principles of assessment, so you have these concepts in focus as you progress to more complex ideas throughout the qualification. The online form of delivery is very clear and I found the learning platform Moodle very accessible. The ongoing connection with your tutor is very important, as it makes the blended learning element of the study more impactful by having ongoing one-to-one interaction.”
The day schools provide an opportunity for students to hear from, and debate with, eminent academics in the educational assessment field.
I was so happy to be in a position where I could find the answers to my questions around assessment.
“My main questions while studying were around validity and design. Fortunately, we had a lot of practical examples and insights from leading academics. I learnt from assessment professionals who were leading on the validation of exams at Cambridge, and through those conversations, I got a very deep understanding of what they were doing to be successful. I also met people whose books I had read while developing my knowledge throughout my career, and I was so happy to be in a position where I could find the answers to my questions around assessment. Simply put, through the qualification, I was able to develop my practical knowledge and find the expertise I was longing for. Assessment is the link between practice and research, and you need to know where to start and where to compare your practice to be successful - the Postgraduate Advanced Certificate enables this.”
Applying assessment knowledge
At the time of studying for her postgraduate diploma, Desislava had moved to the role of Teaching Assistant in Mathematics at a Secondary school. Due to her study with Cambridge, she soon moved to the position of Data Assessment Officer and then finally Data Manager in 2018. In 2021, when the pandemic hit, and exams were cancelled, Desislava’s assessment knowledge was vital to the school’s response.
“On the day exams were cancelled, I started working with my line manager on how to collect the grades accurately. Due to my assessment experience in both my working life and with Cambridge I felt very equipped to help lead on the process.”
Fundamentally, my experience from my study with Cambridge was a big factor in achieving a positive outcome in a very difficult and unexpected situation.
“It was an outstanding school, so it was important to accurately represent the progress of students. The instructions from the government were not always clear, and it took much coordination to explain factors such as why rankings were required for students in the same grade band to the school stakeholders. I was involved in the collecting of grades from the first night of exams being cancelled to finally submitting them when required.”
“Throughout this period my assessment experience was key. I guided the school on how to make accurate mark sheets, and I liaised with teachers on how to achieve fair analysis, so we could measure the school’s progress consistently. Fundamentally, my experience from my study with Cambridge was a big factor in achieving a positive outcome in a very difficult and unexpected situation.”
Connecting with the Network
Despite her impressive knowledge being a key success factor in her approach to the pandemic, Desislava still wanted to develop her assessment expertise.
“I wanted to continue connecting my fascination with assessment with other practitioners, and through Cambridge Assessment Network I felt confident in achieving this goal. In my second training course with Cambridge I completed A104: Psychometrics in Educational Assessment. I find the topic of psychometrics so interesting; especially how it can be deployed to achieve desirable test level and item level quality.”
This connection was strengthened in 2021 when Cambridge Assessment Network launched their membership scheme, which brought a global community of assessment practitioners together.
“Membership is a great opportunity to find even more answers to the questions you have around assessment. It’s the perfect balance of the right support in the right place - of theory and practice. With membership you can find the materials and people, from across the globe, who can support your growth as a practitioner. If you can’t find the answers yourself, our community will have them for you.”
“Ask the Experts (the member-only webinar series) is very helpful for this situation. As a Member, you can ask questions and get insightful answers from leading experts whenever you need support. From this series, you get new information through the lens of leading Cambridge thinking – which is a wonderful benefit. Along with the other resources we receive such as regular checklists and guides, I would say membership is a fantastic proposition for assessment professionals”.
Assessing the future
Desislava now works at King’s College, London in the field of assessment and is keen to continue her career development.
“My main interest continues to be around the question of construct validity in the design stage of test development. I want to eventually progress to a senior assessment position and become the leader for the implementation of assessment throughout an organisation. I know there’s a lot of room for growth in my current role, and I’m optimistic about achieving this in the future.”
With over 60 hours of learning with Cambridge Assessment Network, Desislava has achieved an Assessment Practitioner Award for her commitment to developing her assessment expertise.
“My time with the Network has certainly upgraded my knowledge. I regularly see the way that Cambridge is doing things, and their vastness of experience in assessment is very powerful. However, it’s not only the amount of knowledge they have accrued, but also the quality. In Bulgaria we have scattered knowledge, whereas Cambridge combines all the leading thinking into one place. It is theory connected with evidence, and I couldn’t recommend their training or membership offering strongly enough to my fellow practitioners.”