Assessment for Changing Times: Opportunities and Challenges.

The cycles of educational and assessment change and reform across many systems get shorter and shorter, as policymakers respond to emerging needs. Such needs are typically driven by societal and economic factors, informed by ever-increasing volumes of research, evaluation of practice and public comment. This process reflects experience across most areas in society, including education and educational assessment. Such rapid change brings opportunities. For example, it allows for research and development of new methods and approaches to measure skills and competencies, development of enhanced forms of digital assessment, creation of virtual items and introduction of adaptive assessment into large-scale testing programmes. These are exciting developments that occupy the professional lives of many individuals, groups and agencies globally.

However, such developments bring challenges also. Change in assessment policy and practice command the attention of stakeholders in education – policymakers, teachers, students, parents and the research community. Such attention by stakeholders can evolve into anxiety, debate, struggle for control of assessment systems and conflict. Examples include concerns about measuring problem-solving as part of the Programme in International Student Assessment (PISA), struggles between teachers’ unions and Government in Ireland about school-based assessment, and the opt-out-of-testing movement by parents in Scotland and the US.

Quite apart from these developments, we have experienced rapid enforced changes worldwide in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly affected the educational and assessment environment. The need to adapt to a rapidly changing assessment environment has accelerated even more. New needs have emerged, including the fact that most school children (and higher education students) undertake at least some of their learning online beyond the traditional classroom environment.

Questions of Interest
The AEA-Europe online conference 2021 offers delegates the chance to explore change in assessment and how it is received by stakeholders. Questions of interest include:

● What are we changing in assessment?
● Why is change needed?
● How do we introduce new ideas, practices and methods?
● What are the benefits of such reform and where is the evidence that change works?
● What are the obstacles to changes in assessment and to systemic reform or practice?

The conference theme unifies and extends the themes explored in some previous AEA-Europe conferences, particularly those in Lisbon (2019) and Arnhem/Nijmegen (2018) and in the our first major online event, the AEA-Europe Festival (2020). The 2018 theme encouraged delegates to discuss the development of optimally fitting tests and assessments designed to meet the needs of learners, teachers and policymakers in the future. Such assessments, many of which draw on advances in digital technology, require solid evidence of fit with relevant curriculum content and skills and need to display psychometrics properties appropriate to their use. Delegates in Lisbon (2019) were invited to consider how assessments can be used to transform teaching and learning and thus improve educational outcomes for students. Focusing on assessment as a pedagogical tool, that theme emphasised, in part,how formative and summative assessments can be embedded in classroom practice and how feedback processes can be used not only to inform students but to highlight valuable insights for teachers and other stakeholders in education. Keynotes, presentations and symposia during the 2020 online Festival focused almost entirely on the current impact of the pandemic on assessment. Throughout 2020, COVID-19 posed enormous challenge to the functioning of assessment systems globally. These challenges remain still and continue to shape how assessment professionals adjust and tailor assessment approaches in response to a changed educational environment, while retaining public confidence.

The theme for 2021 encompasses the essence of previous themes, inviting contributors to continue exploring the development of high-quality assessments (for example, assessment of skills and competencies, use of digital assessment, log-file analysis, adaptive testing) and how to implement them most effectively to measure and support learning and to inform system review and development. In addition, the theme especially invites consideration of the consequences of the development and implementation of change in assessment. Inevitably, any perceived changes will be affected by the pandemic. Knowing how and why stakeholders respond to the well-intentioned efforts of the assessment and policy community can help inform more appropriate approaches to implementation. We need to understand to what extent assessment changes are understood and interpreted by test users and those they work with. Understanding why key stakeholders sometimes oppose change helps us design and implement systems that recognise the concerns and frame solutions at the outset. The intended and unintended effects of assessment use are, therefore, important to identify. There is a clear link to validity here in that validity evidence supports (or refutes) the consequences of the interpretation and uses of results: more importantly, how they are understood and used. Clearly, there are consequences both for test users (teachers, students, parents, policymakers) who may hold differing perspectives and for assessment professionals.