Why study assessment?

Why study assessment?

I'm finishing my part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Assessment and Examinations (PGCA) at the University of Cambridge and looking back on it, it was one of the best decisions of my career.

My interest in assessment came from my first teaching post. The assistant head teacher invited Dr Ayesha Ahmed from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education for a morning INSET session on assessment. That INSET morning we were all very tired, and very inexperienced in the design of educational assessment. Thankfully for the school and me, Ayesha's talk was breath-taking. Weeks on and it was still talked about (for how many INSET days does that happen?). 

In my next school, I was filled with that experienced anxiety: I should know what my students could do, but I didn't quite. I also found the phrase that crept up at every data collection point of "well, the test doesn't really reflect my students' abilities" ever more curious. Clearly, I needed more than a morning session. I needed a technical, theoretical and practical induction into the assessment discipline.

I don't think there is a course like the PGCA anywhere else in England."

I don't think there is a course like the PGCA anywhere else in England. It straddles the gap between a short introduction and a significantly longer full-length Masters course. It's that feature that attracted me to the course. I would be able to do both the PGCA and my normal teaching load through a predominantly online course. 

That's not to say that Cambridge devalues the face-to-face discussions and seminars or that the online portions are where students are left alone. The course coordinator, Dr Sue Swaffield, said it best at the first day school - collegiate, personal interactions are a highly valued and essential part of the course. Cambridge, and I for that matter, wouldn't have it any other way. 

Only in those face-to-face personal meetings can you truly see the intensely human aspect of national assessment. And at some level, empathise with the position that Ofqual and the awarding bodies find themselves in every results day. Being able to frankly discuss ideas with professionals from Ofqual, awarding bodies, other assessment professionals and teachers is one of the most valuable parts of the PGCA.

The theoretical induction into assessment mostly covered validity and validation and I have found my thinking sharpen in these areas. The assessments I’ve created for my department have got better and better. There are few better immediate outcomes than this. 

The PGCA has a healthy mix of the practical and theoretical, so it's an ideal course for the aspiring middle leader in schools. I would go as far as to say that every teacher should possess the sort of technical assessment literacy that one gets on the PGCA. Being able to accurately and precisely talk about bias, reliability and validity and what assessment means in their discipline are, unquestionably, the goals for any push for assessment literacy. Few initial teacher training providers are this rigorous, so there is a national need for teachers, both beginner and experienced, to have a theoretical induction into the assessment profession. While I would recommend the course wholeheartedly, there is much more, nationally, to be done.

Teachers cannot rely just on the masters-level courses. Thankfully, the people at Cambridge Assessment Network and Assessment Academy are filling some of the gaps in the national provision. 

I believe that this national need for assessment literacy and expertise can only be tackled by a comprehensive assessment training framework driven by need and capacity. This framework would provide opportunities for (but not limited to):

  • the teacher trainee
  • the teacher who has little time to devote to a year-long course
  • the teacher having to fund their training themselves in an age of ever increasing budget cuts
  • the school looking to train its leadership
  • the assessment professional in an awarding body looking for the next step

There are undoubtedly more cases, but each of these are defined by three factors: disposable income, disposable time and the required level of academic approach. Each of these factors will vary for those with different needs and capacities and a national framework would at least attempt to fill the space. 

PGCA diagram assessment

For those with not much time and given my desire for "assessment literacy for all", I would personally recommend the following three books:

Reynolds, Cecil R., Ronald B. Livingston, and Victor L. Willson. Measurement and Assessment in Education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education International, 2010. Print.

Stobart, Gordon. Testing Times: The Uses and Abuses of Assessment. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Chudowsky, Naomi, Robert Glaser, and James W. Pellegrino. Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment. Washington, DC: National Acad., 2004. Print.

In my opinion, those three books (even though the first and third are US-centric) would provide the best opportunities for the time-pressed teacher to be impactful in their classroom, their department and their school. Then I hope they would take the learning journey further, perhaps onto the course I'd like to call my assessment "home", the Cambridge PGCA.

Deep Ghataura

Changes are being introduced to the PGCA for the 2020/2021 intake. The new Postgraduate Advanced Certificate in Educational Studies: Educational Assessment will now be a 15-month course worth 90 credits towards a Master’s degree. Students are now only required to attend four day schools in Cambridge, with most of the learning taking place online. There will be three units, each with an assignment. If you interested in finding out more, visit our PGCA webpage

The application deadline for the 2020 course is Monday 1 June.

Get in touch to be added to a mailing list for further details.

Research Matters

Research Matters 32 promo image

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.