Most of Carolyn’s career has been spent in the delivery of large scale, high profile assessments and, before joining the IB, she was Examinations Director of AQA, the largest of the assessment organisations offering A-levels and GCSEs in the UK. She spent her first six years in the IB as Chief Assessment Officer, transforming the assessment of the Diploma and Middle Years’ Programmes from paper-based to digital operations.
In 2016 she became IB’s first Director of Strategic Development and Execution and has led in the implementation of the IB’s strategic plan. Carolyn also oversees research in the IB and her interests lie in bringing together strategy development and research to innovate in an organisation already well known for its innovative programmes, assessments and engagement with IB World Schools.
The criteria for the design of good high volume assessments are well known and were encapsulated by Alex Peterson in the late 20th century:
“What is needed is a process of assessment which is as valid as possible, in the sense that it really assesses the whole endowment and personality of the pupil in relation to the next stage of his life, but at the same time sufficiently reliable to assure pupils, parents, teachers, and receiving institutions that justice is being done. Yet such a process must not, by its backwash effect, distort good teaching, nor be too slow, nor absorb too much of our scarce educational resources.”
(Peterson 2003 : 50)
Many assessment designs meet some of these assessment criteria, but few, if any, meet them all, especially when the widespread use of technology in classrooms today means that valid and authentic assessments should allow students to work on computers. The prevalent use of assessments designed to assess the performance of individual candidates to rate teaching outcomes increases the importance of good assessment design.
It is hard to ensure reliability of marking and the maintenance of standards and academic honesty in a rich coursework task that students can work on over a long period of time in school and at home, although the task will be entirely valid and authentic. Similarly, multiple choice assessments which are provided online tick all the reliability, manageability and academic honesty boxes – but are they actually worth the effort as they tell us so little about what the student has really learned at a level deeper than the lower order skills of recall, comprehension and application? Will these skills alone support school graduates in the challenging and uncertain economic future they face?
Use the IB’s MYP eAssessments and some other eAssessments as illustrations, we can evaluate how far they really do ‘square the circle’.