England’s exams regulator, Ofqual, is considering the use of technology to revolutionize the administration of GCSEs and A-levels. The regulator intends to remove regulatory hurdles to enable exam boards to study the use of digital delivery, remote assessment, and "adaptive testing" software that personalizes exam questions to suit individual student responses. Ian Bauckham, Ofqual’s chairman, notes that technology and on-screen assessment adoption should no longer be a question of if but when and how, triggered by the pandemic. However, all proposed changes need careful evaluation to identify their impact on all categories of students, including those with special needs. School leaders stress that online exams could address security concerns and ensure exam continuity during lockdown-style conditions.
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, highlights that the current pen-and-paper exam regime orchestrated with Fort Knox-style security is outdated and ripe for reform. Furthermore, it is vulnerable to unforeseen events, as evidenced by the pandemic. Barton argues that the availability of online assessment could have averted the need for two consecutive-year summer exam cancellations.
Ofqual plans to use adaptive testing to replace tiered GCSE exams. This testing method entails adjusting the test’s difficulty based on a student’s aptitude. Whenever a student correctly answers a question, they receive progressively more challenging queries, and vice versa. In this way, it’s possible to grade different combinations of questions on their difficulty and compare and contrast different student test scores. Adaptive testing is suitable for subjects with right and wrong answers, such as Mathematics, and best implemented within the use of multiple-choice questions.
Ofqual is yet to develop immediate plans to launch adaptive testing. However, it will conduct exploratory works to address the technical aspects, as well as elicit views and feedback from students, teachers, and leaders. Bousted, the joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, suggests that Ofqual use this opportunity to review the use of high-stakes exams in the English school system. She believes that a comprehensive education approach is more than merely demonstrating memory recall during end-of-course exams.