Sometimes I just get carried away a bit. I managed to get an early copy of Daisy Christodoulou’s new book on assessment called Making Good Progress. I read it, and I made notes. It seems a bit of a shame to do nothing with them, so I decided to publish them as blogs (6 of them as it was about 6000 words). They are only mildly annotated. I think they are fair and balanced, but you will only think so if you aren’t expecting an incredulous ‘oh, it’s the most important book ever’ or ‘it is absolutely useless’. I’ve encountered both in Twitter discussions.
PART 4 – A MODEL OF PROGRESS AND PRINCIPLES OF ASSESSMENT
This part addresses chapters 6 and 7.
Chapter 6 describes the first of the alternative models, with the model of progress. I think it makes perfect sense to link summative and formative assessments, and I also applaud the suggestion that textbooks, or even digital textbooks, could play a larger role in the English curriculum. Here, I have been influenced by my Dutch background, where using textbooks (for maths, for example, my subject) is quite normal. There also is ample research on textbooks from other countries. ‘Progression’ also seems to refer to starting with basic skills and ‘progressing’ to next phases. I’m immediately thinking about (sequences of) task design, worked examples, fading of feedback, scaffolding, etc. These are all common elements of instructional design and multimedia learning and remain unmentioned. I think it’s good that the idea of ‘progression’ is made accessible for the average teacher but do wonder whether this is a missed opportunity. In designing their lessons teachers can be helped, even for the domain of assessment. It is followed up by some interesting threats to validity, including teaching to the test. I thought the author’s description of a progression model made sense; I imagine it is what humans have done over the centuries while designing curricula. Measuring the progression (p. 155) repeats the assumption that if you are interested in generic skills (I agree that with Christodoulou that’s not enough) you will grade frequently. In my mind it seems a bit of a rhetorical trick to make generic skill lovers complicit to a testing regime. It is interesting that Christodoulou mentions the word ‘multidimensional’ because I will later on see it as one of the summative shortcomings of comparative judgement, which promotes an holistic judgement over separate elements. Of course I agree with the advice we “need different scales and different types of assessment” (p. 159) and I also like the marathon analogy. But I do wonder what is new about that advice.
Then it’s onwards to principles for choosing the right assessments in chapter 7. To improve formative assessments some elements are promoted: specificity, frequency, repetition, and recording raw marks. I like how multiple-choice questions are ‘reinstated’ as being useful. I do think the advantages are exaggerated, especially because the subject context is disregarded, as well as multiple-choice ‘guessing’ strategies. It is notable that Christodoulou goes into the latter criticism and explains how the drawbacks could be mitigated. I think it would have been good if these had also been addressed for more subjective essays. The maths example of p. 167 is fair enough, but there technically (even with marking) is no reason to not make this an open question that can even provide feedback. I think it also would be useful to distinguish between different types of knowledge that should underpin questions. I think it is perfectly fine to give MC questions a firm place for diagnostics (or even diagnostic databases, as there already are many of them) but the author could highlight cutting edge potential more as well. Maybe it’s most useful to simply not say that one of question type is ‘best suited’ but to simply say one needs to ensure that the inferences drawn from the questions are valid; in other words the validity of them. ‘Validity’ seems to be a term that underpins a lot of the author’s thinking, which makes it a shame that it wasn’t treated more elaborately in chapter 3. I like how the testing effect, and Roediger and Karpicke’s work, features from page 169, as well as desirable difficulties (Bjork) and spaced and distributed practice. These are all very relevant and indeed could inform teachers how to better organise their assessments.