Questioning questions

23 January 2017

Good assessment is about helping students to learn, the world’s largest gathering of education and skills ministers has been told.

Michael O’Sullivan, Chief Executive of Cambridge International Examinations, told the Education World Forum (EWF) in London that good assessment should not be just about measuring what students know.

“Good assessment is at the heart of a good education,” said Michael. “And for assessment to work well, the questions used to test students’ understanding need to have been designed well. This is true for both formative assessment – the questions that teachers ask every day in the classroom – and for summative assessment – the end-of-year tests and public exams.”

He went on to say that “at Cambridge, we have been working on this for 150 years, and [good assessment is] quite complicated”. He said when questions were designed well, they provided valuable data, both at the micro level of the classroom and the macro level of systems and countries.

He also spoke about some of the research that is helping ensure that assessments work well and ask the right questions. He said that sister exam board Cambridge English Language Assessment has been researching how tests can encourage young students of English to develop their writing skills at an earlier stage, using a technique known as scaffolding. And he noted how research for the Cambridge Approach to Textbooks is now helping inform text book design.

Michael ended by saying educators should always ask themselves “How do I know that the questions my students are being asked are helping them learn?”

Under the Cambridge brand, Cambridge International Examinations, Cambridge English Language Assessment and Cambridge University Press are Platinum Partners for EWF, which began on Sunday and runs until Wednesday. This year’s theme is teaching, testing, talent and technology.


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