Part of the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change, the University of Glasgow Educational Assessment Network (UGEAN) is concerned with one of the most powerful drivers in education systems internationally – assessment. The work of UGEAN is designed to inform and develop the use of assessment as a means of promoting social justice. (A full report on UGEAN's recent work can be accessed here: UGEAN Annual Report 19-20)
Internationally, assessment is one of education’s biggest challenges. A country’s assessment system signals to the education community and to wider society what is valued in learning: we assess what we value, but equally we value what we assess. The arrangements for assessment, reporting and awarding certificates and qualifications both reflect and shape the experiences of learners and their teachers in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities, helping to determine both what is to be learned and how it is learned. Where the published outcomes of assessment are used to hold educational institutions, administrators and governments to account and judge their effectiveness in comparison to others, classroom practice is likely to focus on the content of end-of-year tests and examinations and whole-school outcomes. Assessment to support individual learners’ progress, identifying their strengths and development needs and promoting wider aspects of learning that are crucial for their wellbeing and life chances, may be less emphasised.
A quiet revolution in assessment
The high profile of educational ’league tables’ in media headlines, identifying ‘failing schools’ and winners and losers in what has been called the ‘footballisation’ of education*, overshadows other stories about a quiet revolution that has been gathering pace internationally. New approaches bring curriculum, pedagogy and assessment together in ways that offer better learning and life chances for every learner and give learners themselves a greater role in the assessment process, through contributing, evaluating and using their own information and evidence.
The internationally renowned UK Assessment Reform Group, of which Professor Louise Hayward was a member, concluded that differences in assessment lie not in their form but in the ways the evidence about learning they generate is used for different purposes. In the past, different kinds of assessment (eg. teacher observations, oral interviews, written tests and examinations) had been seen as separate and distinct forms of assessment. Crucial to the use of evidence is the quality of that evidence for its particular purpose.
This network explores the use of evidence from assessment for three different purposes:
- its formative purpose, focusing on the relationship amongst curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, and on approaches to gathering high-quality evidence to evaluate progress in learning and determining what might be done to support future learning, at individual, institutional and national levels;
- its summative purposes, focusing on approaches to summing up learning at institutional, national and international levels periodically and over time, and the complexities and impacts for learners and institutions of so doing;
- its accountability purposes, focusing on different approaches to the use of assessment information to judge effectiveness at different levels in an education system, and on the various assumptions, challenges and consequences for learners and institutions of so doing.
Transforming assessment: synthesising research, policy and practice
Over the last 30 years members of UGEAN have worked in a variety of roles in partnership with policy makers and practitioners. In Scotland and in other parts of the UK UGEAN members have sought to establish and develop research-informed policy and practice in assessment and explore the processes of sustainable change. The various members of the network bring together experience from their different roles and responsibilities in research, policy-making and educational practice, learning with and from each other in a community of enquiry to make the whole network greater than the sum of its parts. As a whole, UGEAN represents a powerful force for building capacity in assessment and introducing sustainable, transformational change in Scotland and beyond.
Over the past decade, this work has been extended internationally, leading to the establishment of the International Educational Assessment Network (IEAN). This network brings together researchers and policy makers from twelve nations and states similar in population size to Scotland, to share their experience and expertise and learn with and from each other: about how assessment systems can best be designed to promote social justice; and about how transformational and sustainable changes in our approaches to assessment can be effected to the benefit of all learners, throughout their lives.
Looking to the future
A key focus for the work of members of UGEAN is to engage in participative research methodologies, both to enhance current understandings of the relationships between socio-cultural learning and educational assessment and design approaches to innovation that lead to sustainable change:
- through carrying out and critically evaluating research to inform their own thinking about assessment (research projects and evaluation studies)
- through using the findings of research and evaluation studies to inform advice to policy-makers, educational leaders and administrators, in Scotland and internationally (policy advice, expert policy groups)
- through building the capacity of the next generation of educational assessment researchers and practitioners, through offering undergraduate, post-graduate and professional learning programmes and courses (designing and teaching programmes and courses)
- through regular exchanges, inquiry and debate with expert practitioners and thinkers in assessment, in Scotland, in IEAN and internationally (keynotes, conference papers, seminars)