Assessment Horizons - assessment literacy, identities and cultures - with Dr Simon Child

by Guest Blogger, 14 November 2022

This discussion first appeared in Perspectives on Assessmentthe Cambridge Assessment Network member newsletter, which features key voices from the assessment community along with many other member-exclusive content.

“Assessment cultures can lead to repetition of both bad and good practices generation to generation”.  

Dr Simon Child, Cambridge Assessment Network's Head of Assessment Training was recently a discussant at the 'Exploring the role of assessment literacy in times of uncertainty' session at AEA-Europe Conference 2022. Simon was discussing the key themes and ideas emerging from a set of talks by Martin Johnson, Mary Richardson and Dina Tsagari, focusing on the assessment literacy of students, English language teachers and teacher-examiners. We caught up with him to learn more about assessment literacy and cultures and how learning about these concepts may evolve.

What role does assessment literacy play in assessment culture and in the creation of assessment identities?

"The concept of assessment ‘literacy’ was initially developed by Rick Stiggins in the early 90s and defined as a teacher’s ability to create and use assessment practices with the intention of achieving student learning progress. Each individual teacher or educator has a particular skill set that they draw upon to set assessment tasks, collect evidence from learners, process, and judge that evidence. 

Teachers, however, aren’t doing this in a vacuum; their assessment-related decisions are influenced by a wide range of factors. One of these factors is the assessment ‘culture’ in which they live and work. For example, if a school has a mandatory summative assessment policy for Key Stage 3, then this is an element of assessment culture which influences how teachers apply their assessment literacy."  

What are you hearing from Cambridge Assessment Network members about the creation of their own assessment identities? 

"A very important first point is that all of our members have decided to commit to the development of their expertise in assessment. They are actively seeking to develop either their technical expertise or leadership. 

In the members discussion forum, I asked them to write about their early experiences working with assessment. They wrote about their personal transition from being the subject of an assessment, to someone who is designing assessments for others.  At least initially, they drew on their own lived experiences of what worked well and badly. This shows how assessment cultures can lead to repetition of both bad and good practices generation to generation."

You’ve developed a professional learning framework for assessment practitioners, of which assessment identity is a key part. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

"In recent years, the original conceptualisation from Stiggins and others concerning assessment ‘literacy’ has been criticised as being a relatively fixed notion i.e. once ‘literacy’ is achieved, teachers just need to apply their knowledge in the classroom. Speaking to teachers and other people interested in assessment, however, it became clear that professional development in assessment is much more dynamic, and often situationally dependent. 

The recent AEA conference symposium I was a discussant for showed that students, teachers, and examiners all hold their own ideas about what it means to be assessment literate, and that this changes over the course of a career. To account for this in the professional framework, I have incorporated meta-cognition (thinking about your own learning) and other reflective practices that aim to help practitioners consider where they have come from in their learning journey, where they are now, and how they plan to develop their expertise in the future. This is a key element of their assessor identity."

What do you think the future looks like for different assessment stakeholders in terms of the development of assessment literacy and a more well-informed assessment identity?

"I anticipate that learners might look to become more assessment literate so that they can have more influence in determining assessments that they participate in. Currently, most forms of assessment are an imposition of sorts – one group compels another group to participate. 

COVID and recent activism centred on social justice etc. might begin to influence the narrative in assessment as we debate what it means for an assessment to be ‘fair’. Whilst this is a highly technical and philosophical issue, I think one outcome might be an increased level of negotiation between the assessors and the assessed on how assessment can be most validly developed and delivered."

What advice would you give to assessment practitioners who want to support learners with broadening their assessment literacy?

"My advice would be to be very clear to learners as to the reasons why you are using an assessment. 

This is an important part of practice that is often forgotten in fast-paced teaching environments. In our professional development courses, we often begin by exploring the different purposes of assessment – is it to check security of knowledge? to rank students? to check overall attainment? etc. 

Explaining this to learners can help them buy into the assessment, instil the right mindset and in many cases reduce anxiety. Over time, learners will come to understand the pivotal role assessment plays in moving their own learning forward and will support them to form a healthy relationship with assessment." 

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