Jessica Blakey, Assessment Design Manager, NCFE

How a focus on authenticity, accessibility and automation will help create truly transformational end-to-end learning experiences 

Recently Janine Oliver, Head of Assessment Innovation at NCFE, explored what the future of assessment could look like, in the ever-changing environment in which we operate.

Janine specifically discussed how we can identify the key ingredients to create a system that is truly transformational for learners in technical and vocational education.

The latest piece in this series of articles sees Jessica Blakey, NCFE’s Assessment Design Manager, take a closer look at how we can set learners up for successful futures through assessment design that is:

  1. Authentic
  2. Accessible, and
  3. Automated 

Here, Jessica outlines the key principles and how they can be put into action to make the greatest impact for learners.

Why is innovation in assessment design important?

In the Assessment Design Team at NCFE, we develop methods to understand learner attainment reliably and in a valid way. Many of these methods, such as exam papers and workplace observations, will be familiar to most of us and are long-established ways of assessing competence.

However, just because something has always been done, does not mean that it is the right way to do it now and in the future. That’s why our Assessment Design Team always has one eye on emerging trends to keep work evidence-informed and to give learners the best possible experience.

The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) released a report in 2019 on the Future of Assessment, which focused on how technology could be used to help address some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Further and Higher Education communities.

Although the world has experienced unforeseen turbulence and challenges since this report was published, the principles remain true and valid. The impact of the pandemic has actually presented a real opportunity to review assessment, the place it has within education and what needs to change.

What are the principles in the Future of Assessment paper?

The paper outlines 5 principles, manifesto-style, for the future of assessment to be achieved by 2024. They are:

  1. Authentic assessment: there will have been a shift in focus from acquiring knowledge rooted in a particular curriculum or occupational area to acquiring transferable skills, and these will be assessed in a more realistic way.
  2. Accessible assessment: where the design of assessments will have moved to an accessibility-first principle that allows the same assessment to be delivered in multiple ways, depending on the needs of the learner.
  3. Appropriately automated assessment: a balance will have been established between automated and human marking, and feedback that delivers the maximum learning benefit to students.
  4. Continuous assessment: data and analytics will be in widespread use to assess the effectiveness and impact of continuous assessment and to plan strategies across the whole organisation.
  5. Secure assessment: there will have been a general adoption of authoring detection and biometric authentication for identity and remote proctoring.

What can we do to drive the 5 principles forward?

Some of the principles lend themselves readily to the work we do at NCFE in creating assessment suites for qualifications, and the most interesting areas of focus for us are looking at authentic, accessible and automated assessment.

We are pledging to design assessments that will build trust, confidence, and value to all stakeholders and our solutions will be inherently fair, providing an appropriate level of ‘recognisable value’ to all stakeholders who have invested in learning. What’s more, assessment will be an integral component of the learner journey that showcases learner, educator, and institution level strengths, and developing true agency in learners across a lifetime of learning.

Authentic assessment

Authentic assessment underpins everything we design at NCFE. In our work, this usually means that assessments are fit-for-purpose, whether that is unlocking a career or further study.

Immersive technology can be an asset to authentic assessment, especially in health qualifications. For example, VR platforms are authentic in the sense of carrying out the tasks virtually - so students who have chosen a Midwifery route in the Health T Level could support the delivery of a baby virtually if we integrated this technology. However, it could be argued that this is best for formative assessment for learners to reach a threshold point, as sometimes the technology cannot reflect real life and is too prescriptive in the tasks it directs learners to do.

We always work to create strong links with employers and industry experts when developing qualifications, and that close collaboration ensures the assessment is as authentic as possible to the industry it represents.

Accessible assessment

As an educational charity with the core purpose to ‘promote and advance learning, helping to create a fairer, more inclusive society’, our primary concern is the opportunities and outcomes that learners achieve in their learning, career and in life. So, accessible assessment is already core to NCFE’s practice through including special considerations, but we are now challenging ourselves to go further.

Are we really considering universal design enough in our assessment design work? With mental health issues currently on the rise, this should be a specific consideration when we think about the learners we are designing for, and the challenges they have had to face in their education so far.

It’s not always easy to incorporate this into design as the responsibility for accessible assessment often sits with the education providers (our customers), but we must ensure we are doing all we can to drive more focus on this throughout the sector. We will be looking to review and adapt our processes with this at front of mind.

Automated assessment

Automation of assessment is a formative tool that supports teaching and learning through formative assessment. There are areas where this could add further strength to our digital assessments. For example, automatically generated feedback could help maximise learners’ strengths in assessments, and there are ways we could use it for examiners as well as end-point assessment for apprenticeships.

Automation also presents opportunities to incorporate new techniques, such as comparative judgement, in the awarding process to set grade boundaries.

With these principles in mind, what does the future hold?

Our Assessment Design Team has committed to looking into innovative ways of ensuring everything we produce is authentic and incorporating emerging technologies into design to push the boundaries of what we do.

Most importantly, we are going to explore how accessibility and universal design informs our work from the very beginning. We will continue to build transformational assessments with the aim of empowering every learner, to ensure that every individual can fulfil their potential, not just in terms of academic attainment or employment outcomes, but also their wellbeing, mental health and happiness. This is at the very heart of NCFE’s vision to promote and advance learning.

We look forward to sharing more about our progress in assessment design as we move forward.

Jessica Blakey, Assessment Design Manager, NCFE

How can you collaborate with us to make a difference?

There are many ways you can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:

  • You can join our expert panel to be part of the discussions and activities that drive innovation.
  • There will also be a range of consultation opportunities in relation to the research we are undertaking now and in the future.
  • When we launch the Assessment Innovation Fund, we will be looking for applications to deliver an assessment innovation pilot. 

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