From teaching to testing to training: a career in assessment

From teaching to testing to training: a career in assessment

Annabel Charles is a tutor on the Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Assessment and Examinations. She writes here about her varied career in education and assessment, and assessment as a professional route.

I don’t think anyone responds to the question, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ with the answer ‘Work in assessment’! It’s one of those things you fall into by accident.  I always wanted to teach and thought I'd be a teacher till I collected my pension. Looking back, I can see signs that I would become interested in assessment – I enjoyed thinking up questions, tasks and activities – and willingly took responsibility for preparing school exams (though I imagine they were pretty amateurish!). 

I've been involved in variety of exam-related work over the years. As a teacher I enjoyed the challenge of devising coursework tasks and the process of assessing and moderating students’ work. When I moved to Cambridge, I became an examiner and was also involved in making a film about assessing oral work. Sometime later, when a temporary post at UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate), working in the National Curriculum Group, came up, I was asked to apply. The temporary post became permanent - and the rest is history! 

I spent 12 years working for the National Curriculum Group, developing the key stage 3 English tests for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and taking part in other related projects. It was a baptism of fire but at the same time an excellent training ground for learning the practicalities of test development: the papers went through a rigorous development process, were pre-tested twice and were ruthlessly reviewed by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and assorted groups of teachers and specialists. 

In 2006, I left Cambridge Assessment to work freelance. I have formalised my knowledge /experience by completing an MA in Educational Assessment. I write text books, contribute to research projects and deliver training events - including Cambridge Assessment Network's Question Writing course, and I am a tutor on the PGCA.

Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Assessment and Examinations (PGCA)

One of the things students on the PGCA course enjoy most is meeting people from other contexts and sharing experiences and ideas. Often they find they have more in common than they imagine, and can offer each other useful advice. 

Some of the topics that regularly come up are the tension between the time it takes to produce high quality assessments and the time available; the lack of understanding of assessment among different stakeholders and the constraints people have to work within, whether imposed by governments, regulators or professional bodies. Of course, the key themes of assessment – validity, reliability, manageability and creating positive impact for all - run throughout the course! 

Supporting assessment as a professional route 

Exam boards could demonstrate different paths to developing a career in assessment, supported with appropriate training opportunities. When I joined Cambridge Assessment, straight from teaching, I had to learn on the job and I suspect that’s the same for many people. A grasp of the underpinning theory provides a shared language to talk about assessment, professionalises the role of test developer / examiner and strengthens practice.

I find assessment incredibly interesting because it's of relevance and importance to everyone - we have all taken exams and tests – and we depend on assessment all the time (I want to be confident that the person flying the plane has met the required standards!). I enjoy working with a range of people from different backgrounds, the sharing of experiences and views and the lively debates that follow: like teaching, it is never dull.

Annabel’s top book recommendations for learning more about assessment

•    Key Concepts in Educational Assessment Isaacs et al, 2013. Sage

     "An introduction to key terms - useful for reference"

•    Unlocking Assessment, Sue Swaffield (ed), 2008. Routledge

     "Some key issues considered by some key names in assessment"

•    Testing Times - The uses and abuses of assessment, Gordon Stobart, 2008. Routledge

     "The purposes and consequences of assessment – very readable"

•    Outstanding Formative Assessment Culture and Practice, Shirley Clarke, 2014. Hodder Education

     "A practical book which brings together the theory and practice of formative assessment"

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