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Research Conference 2022 Highlights
Shutterstock - Tithi Luadthong

Research Conference 2022 Highlights

Feature 6 minute read

Hundreds of experts, teachers and researchers gathered virtually in August for ACER's Research Conference 2022, on the theme ‘Reimagining Assessment’.

The opportunity to reimagine anything is an opportunity to reconsider the rules. The opportunity to reimagine assessment, as attendees did at Research Conference 2022, was an opportunity to forget budgets, timelines and curriculum frameworks.

While dozens of ideas were explored, three factors were consistent across many of the conference presentations.

  • An active awareness of reducing burden on teachers, especially when introducing a new process.
  • Taking advantage of current and emerging technology.
  • The importance of knowing exactly what you are assessing. You can’t measure what you haven’t defined.

Benchmarking proficiency

Often, what is being assessed is already defined by existing frameworks. The Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Centre – a joint venture between ACER and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – works to support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal in education (SDG4) in the Indo-Pacific region. In a presentation by GEM Centre staff, they talked about the prescribed minimum proficiency levels that are assessed as part of SDG4. They workshopped how to design assessments that meet these levels, and conference participants had a chance to ‘assess the assessments’. They quickly learned that designing assessment items that fit within these framework takes a lot of expertise.

Cultural responsiveness

Dr Carly Steele and Associate Professor Graeme Gower from Curtin University asked delegates to consider the possible disadvantage of examinations on First Nations students and students from a lower socio-economic background. Exam questions with references to cultural items, such as movie theatres, might frame a question more easily for some students, but not for students who don’t or can’t visit a cinema. It is a reminder for teachers and assessors that there are different ways of knowing, being and doing. Steele and Gower used an example that when students from a traditional culture are asked to perform a dance on their own they may feel shame, as this is traditionally a group experience. Some students were having their performances recorded and were nervous about how this would be stored and who else could access this.

Moving from nouns to verbs

The 2022 Karmel Oration was delivered by Dr Diane DeBacker from the Center for Certification and Competency Based Education at the University of Kansas. Her entertaining and though-provoking presentation spoke about making learning visible: moving from nouns to verbs. She said that in the United States, there are common course standards which can be very granular but say little. When you finish high school in the US you receive a transcript with a list of nouns and a GPA. However, when you move into workforce, you read position descriptions that talk about the duties you need to be successful. These are all verbs. DeBacker asked that we look at assessment the same way, as a continuum of doing.

Measuring growth

At Marist College Canberra, staff were challenged to define ‘what is a year’s growth?’ and combine this with their commitment to challenge students intellectually every day. They started scientifically by comparing their whole school instructional framework with their data. This resulted in them examining what learning they needed to do and, equally as important, what unlearning they needed to do. Staff deepened their professional knowledge and skills to do curriculum mapping and assessment design.  Marist College Canberra use ACER’s Progressive Achievement (PAT) assessments as a trusted data source to triangulate their own data. Teachers have enjoyed comparing these results with their colleagues to get greater insight in the data.

Student-centred feedback

Dr Fabienne van der Kleij from ACER spoke about the importance of feedback as part of the assessment cycle, and the opportunities for increasing student agency in the process. There can be an assumption by students that they are passive in the feedback process, that teachers are the deliverers, and they are the receivers. If we want students to be lifelong learners, then agency is vital to help them improve. One attendee asked how it was possible to provide individualised feedback for each learner without overwhelming teachers. Van der Kleij suggested capitalising on the role of peer-to-peer feedback, discussing exemplars in class or using improvement walls.

Playful assessment

A winner from remote learning was game-based learning platform Kahoot! Louisa Rosenheck from Kahoot! and Dr YJ Kim from the University of Wisconsin-Madison asked why assessment couldn’t be fun and suggested several on and offline ways this could happen. Delegates also shared their own ideas of possible fun assessments. When Rosenheck and Kim were at MIT they helped create an online game where ‘players’ would move shapes to match a silhouette. This geometry test disguised as a game doesn’t just measure the final result, it can also assess the entire process including the rationale, the time taken, risk taking and creativity.

Moderating teacher judgement

Another online solution is assessment tool Brightpath, created by Dr Sandy Heldsinger and Dr Steve Humphry. With strong backgrounds in educational research, they have used their knowledge to create the tool which can compare pieces of written assessment using exemplars to form a scale that results in implicit judgement. It means that teachers in one classroom are using the same exemplars as teachers in every other classroom.

…and more

By the time the conference had finished, attendees were able to reimagine assessment in ways it related to their own work with its own possibilities and limitations. Delegates have access to conference recordings and can re-watch their favourite sessions at a time that suits them.■

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