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Assessment futures

Conceptual framework

What is the rationale for Assessment Futures?

Assessment Futures is based on the proposition that assessment in higher education has been so distorted by concerns about certification and justification that the core purposes at the heart of higher education and, necessarily, assessment have been obscured. Whatever else it does, assessment must support learning. More than this, it must support the processes of learning that students need beyond the point of graduation. Assessment must foster the kinds of attitudes and dispositions, as well as the knowledge and skills, learners need for the variety of tasks they will be confronted with throughout their lives. This means that our conception of assessment needs to move beyond that of testing what has been taught, or measuring learning outcomes, to encompass one that builds the capacity of students to be effective assessors for themselves and for others.

This does not mean that certification of students is not important, or that we should not do it well. Rather, it means that before assessment is subject to other requirements it must foster the kinds of learning and the building of capacity that students need to make judgements. Therefore, the first question to be asked of assessment should never be: Is it reliable and consistent? Instead, we should ask: Does assessment do what we want it to do in terms of promoting the kinds of learning that are desired for the longer term? If it doesn’t do this, then there is no point in moving to other questions.

Building the capacity of students to be effective assessors for themselves and others is the raison d’être of Assessment Futures. It provides ways of thinking about assessment activities within this new frame. This is not meant to imply that what we have been doing already is not useful and worthwhile, but that we need to see assessment through a new lens, and that the use of such a lens may lead us to making some alterations to what we do. Assessment Futures is not about new techniques or assessment methods, but about ensuring that what we do in assessment is always subordinated to the main goal of higher education, which is to develop educated citizens who can face the many challenges of a complex and changing society.

What are the key conceptual features?

Assessment for learning in the longer term has four key conceptual features that are based on the following assumptions:
•    assessment must contribute positively to students’ learning, 
•    it needs to take a view of what is to be learned and how it is to be learned beyond the time scale of the current course unit, 
•    it must develop students' ability to make judgements about what constitutes good work, 
•    it must position students as active learners, and 
•    it  must engage students in the process of seeing themselves as people who will contribute to practice, whatever that practice might be.

These key conceptual features are:
1. Assessment should be sustainable
2. Assessment should develop informed judgement
3. Assessment should construct reflexive learners
4. Assessment needs to form the becoming practitioner

Further discussion of some of these ideas can be found in:

Boud, D. and Associates (2010) Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education, Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council. 
Boud, D. (2000) Sustainable assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22, 2: 151-167.
Boud, D. and Falchikov, N. (2006) Aligning assessment with long-term learning, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 31, 4: 399-413.
Boud, D. (2007) Reframing assessment as if learning were important, in D. Boud & N. Falchikov (eds) Rethinking Assessment for Higher Education: Learning for the Longer Term. London: Routledge, pp. 14-25.
Boud, D. and Falchikov, N. (2007) Developing assessment for informing judgement, in D. Boud and N. Falchikov (eds)Rethinking Assessment for Higher Education: Learning for the Longer Term. London: Routledge, pp. 181-197.
Boud, D. (2009) How can practice reshape assessment? In G. Joughin (ed.) Assessment, Learning and Judgement in Higher Education. Dordrecht: Springer.