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Standardized Assessments: The 21st Century Matrix for Learning and Development

The dependence on the digital mediums and the virtual interactions between students and the teachers in the classroom necessitates the deployment of standardized testing tools that can be applied objectively and transparently to large and diverse groups of testing populations.

The dependence on the digital mediums and the virtual interactions between students and the teachers in the classroom necessitates the deployment of standardized testing tools that can be applied objectively and transparently to large and diverse groups of testing populations.

Learning outcomes for a student in the 21st-century milieu must be aligned to the contemporary needs and requirements of an ever-changing world. In this context, Assessments are vital to reinforce the efficacy of the teaching and learning process. The three “R’s”, i.e., Reading, Writing and Arithmetic have to be supplemented at a very early stage by the development of appropriate knowledge and skills that reflect the complex socio-emotional interplay of factors that categorize the present-day workplace and society. 

However, ASER 2017 report says that “Nearly 50 million children in primary school are not achieving even the basic proficiency in reading and mathematics”. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 recognizes this upfront and lays special emphasis on the age-appropriate attainment of such skills by the students through a holistic approach encompassing cognitive, psychology, and psychomotor aspects. 

The acquisition of such relatively complex skill sets also referred to as competencies, is, therefore, a “sine qua non” for someone aiming for future success in both personal and professional spheres. The real question, however, is of determining the extent to which the inputs accessed by the learners have resulted in the demonstration of the desired “competencies” in them. Also, these learners are disparate in terms of their socio-economic situation, and environment and access to necessary resources. 

It is in this context that standardized assessments are acknowledged to be a highly meaningful method of measuring the learning progression in a homogeneous and replicable manner across different groups of learners in spatial and temporal contexts. A standardized test is administered, reported and interpreted in a consistent and pre-determined manner for all test takers. Standardized assessments have become the benchmark for measuring the attainment of desired outcomes because of the fairness and objectivity innate in their construction. They offer a practical, reliable and affordable means of testing a large number of students, and can be easily managed, reported back and analyzed. These assessments also provide an opportunity for the students to self-evaluate and improve, especially through “diagnostic tests” that focus on showing their strengths and areas of improvements in what they are being tested. 

Assessment data from standardized diagnostic tests are also useful for longitudinal tracking of progress and in discovering trends that further can be used for implementing interventions within a short period of time. The effectiveness of teachers, teaching methodologies, pedagogies, and schools can also be evaluated and acted upon. UNESCO 2017 report on Analyzing and Utilizing Assessment Data for Better Learning Outcomes recommends that the assessment results should be used to review curriculums and education policies by nations. Validity, Reliability, and Fairness should be the underpinning principles of any test development strategy. 

At Oxford University Press, we are focusing on building such assessments that are formative and standardized, enabling students to be benchmarked reliably against other students through extensive data and statistical analysis. The tests are particularly diagnostic in nature, holistic in approach with emphasis on cognitive and other domains such as behavioural and designed to be conducted at regular intervals that help students evolve into constructive learners.

In the post-Covid-19 world, human interactions at all levels will continue to be mostly digital rather than physical. For instance, in the last two years, the proportion of children in India owning a smartphone increased enormously from 36.5% to 61.8% (ASER, 2020 Wave 1). The dependence on the digital medium and the virtual interactions between students and the teachers in the classroom necessitates the deployment of standardized testing tools that can be applied objectively and transparently to large and diverse groups of testing populations.

95% of the assessments measure knowledge of the curriculum, and only 5% measure the non-cognitive abilities such as creativity, collaboration, and communication (Analyzing and Utilizing Assessment Data for Better Learning Outcomes UNESCO, 2017). This approach needs a paradigm shift. Any assessment that aims at measuring outcomes of learning should be built on the pillars of the assessment framework and test design principles, informed by data, and include test instruments that are empirically derived. 

As the future tilts towards more formative, competency-based assessments with an emphasis on higher-order thinking skills (reference NEP 2020 guidelines), it is imperative for institutions and teachers to build diagnostic, holistic and standardized tests that can be delivered through an online medium and are interwoven with effective input mechanisms to help learners achieve the desired “competencies” needed for their future development.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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