Online assessment – what’s stopping us?

February 2016


Facebook       Tweet

JUDE BARBACK looks at where the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is at on its digital assessment journey.


Online assessmentWhen I think of assessment, I think of sitting in the school hall, desks evenly spaced, clear plastic bags with pens. I think of sprinting to the university with printed assignments. For generations before mine, assessment will evoke different memories – perhaps handwritten coursework and the long wait over summer for the results to turn up in the post.

For today’s young people, and certainly tomorrow’s, assessment will be a vastly different experience. From social networks to shopping to school work, today’s teenagers live digital lives; they don’t know a world without technology. So it makes sense that they should also be assessed using digital technology.

Many schools are already using digital processes for internal assessment, and by 2020, NZQA intends to offer a wide range of digital assessment.

Chief executive Dr Karen Poutasi says NZQA is taking “small and considered steps towards this goal, running trials and pilots to ensure we get it right”.

One such step was the revamped eMCAT assessment. The MCAT (Mathematics Common Assessment Task) is a paper-based algebra assessment that Level 1 NCEA students sit each year. In 2014, a very small number of students took part in an electronic version of this assessment, and the pilot was expanded in 2015 to involve approximately 11,000 students, from 146 schools. The eMCAT was also delivered to 14 students who are currently residing overseas. Students who sat the computer-based assessment also sat a paper-based assessment, with their highest mark counting towards NCEA.

Deputy chief executive assessment, Richard Thornton, says that while the initial feedback about the eMCAT has been mixed, 54 per cent of students indicated that the experience was satisfactory.

“We expected there would be challenges in taking an exam designed for paper and putting it online, and some of the feedback reflects this,” says Thornton.

There are bound to be some hurdles in switching mediums for assessment, however NZQA believes they are hurdles worth leaping, given the potential advantages to digital assessment.

Technology can allow assessment to occur anywhere, at any time – for example, whenever the student is ready.

That said, NZQA is determined to keep the student and assessment as the focus of its digital assessment programme, rather than the technology itself, which they view as “an enabler for positive change for assessment”.

As such, NCEA students in the future are likely to be able to complete internal and external assessments online when they are ready, access their results and exam ‘scripts’ online faster with options to apply for reviews and share with others.

Of course, the difficulty with any major change like this, is getting everyone on board. While some schools have had BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programmes up and running for years now, others are struggling to maintain pace.

In an effort to determine schools’ readiness for computer-based assessments, NZQA surveyed secondary schools about their BYOD programme, the capacity of their wireless networks and hardware, and whether they used the electronic submission process for moderation.

Of the 182 schools that responded, just over a quarter would be able to manage computer-based assessment with their existing hardware – although around half indicated they could manage if students’ computers were able to be used. Many schools also mentioned the variable quality of their Wi-Fi, which could impact on its usefulness. Nearly all the responding schools had BYOD programmes in place.

For schools in which digital technology already occupies a firm place, like Orewa College, Tamaki College and Hornby High School, many teachers and students are converts to internal assessment, praising its flexibility and relevance to students’ learning. However, many others are not there yet.

While it won’t happen overnight, others will eventually join those schools that are ready for digital assessment. Certainly, no small task confronts NZQA in meeting its 2020 goal.

Post your comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments