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Designing programmatic assessments for effective learning outcomes

Varun Piplani
Mr. Varun Piplani
Senior Consultant - Assessment Solutions






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While a full-fledged return to the classroom is expected to happen at some point in time, the importance of creating more effective low-stakes assessment has emerged in key academic discourses. In a recent webinar conducted by Turnitin with some of the leading secondary education leaders in India, the need for ‘assessments for learning’ rather than ‘assessment of learning’ was largely stressed, prompting larger conversations around programmatic assessment.

Defining programmatic assessment

According to Prof. C.P.M Van Der Vlueten, Professor of Education at Maastricht University, Netherlands(Vleuten, Shuwirth, Driessen, Govaerts, Heenaman, 2015), “Programmatic assessment is an integral approach to the design of an assessment program with the intent to optimise its learning function, its decision-making function and its curriculum quality-assurance function. Individual methods of assessment, purposefully chosen for their alignment with the curriculum outcomes and their information value for the learner, the teacher and the organisation, are seen as individual data points. The information value of these individual data points is maximised by giving feedback to the learner.”

The way programmatic assessments work is to decouple the assessment moment from the decision moment. An assessment programme is seen as a journey from a series of low-stakes to high-stakes decisions, with each assessment working as a single data point assisting in the journey. The data points move from low-stakes to high-stakes as the assessment process progresses. Continuous feedback loops become a critical assistive tool in the entire student learning journey, as with each data point, the student receives necessary feedback to make the transition to the next step. Programmatic assessments also need a master plan which acts as an overarching structure within which the individual data points and their respective competency-based outcomes are clearly defined. Within the master plan sits various assessment methods which are mapped to the learning outcomes that each of them are expected to achieve.

The idea of ‘assessment for learning’ also takes shape, as some of these methods do not just look at testing learning outcomes, but also focus on behavioural traits and skills that a student is expected to pick up and display such as collaboration, professionalism and communication. These take a slightly longitudinal view in the assessment process. Therefore, the methods and the data points in the assessment framework take both longitudinal as well as modular elements into account during design as well as evaluation.

For example, a student studying Renaissance literature may be expected to work on a collaborative project which will assess his or her collaboration skills, an oral examination which will test his or her ability to synthesise the information and articulate it effectively, or write an essay on it to demonstrate critical thinking skills around the subject at hand.

Feedback Orientation in programmatic assessment

Feedback orientation is the most critical aspect of a programmatic assessment. Unlike a high-stakes assessment, pass-fail decisions are not based on the individual assessment. For every assessment method that a student is assigned, their performance is measured against the individual data point that they are subjected to. Therefore, giving and receiving feedback becomes the cornerstone of an authentic assessment process, as improving or adapting their approach based on the feedback in the next data point, is the behaviour that the student tries to achieve.

The rationale of a programmatic assessment is to make the entire assessment process transparent to the student. The learning journey as well as the outcomes are as transparent to the students as they are to the assessors, allowing the students to internalise the feedback at every step and improve with time. This is where Gradescope offers the maximum value, by creating an environment that eases the grading process and allows for a more transparent self-evaluation and feedback sharing mechanism.

While high-stakes summative assessments have been deeply ingrained in the education system, the need for a more competency-based education process supported by recent Indian policy implementations such as the creation of academic credit banks, is opening up discourses about programmatic assessments in the process.