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E-Assessments: A Qualified Success

We have just finished our first season of the MYP e-assessments. This is my initial feedback on how it went. For those who don't know, e-assessments are online, multimedia assessments in six subjects which offer an externally verified culmination to the Middle Years Programme. They are Ofqual approved which means that they are exactly equivalent to GCSEs in terms of the weight that they hold with further education providers and potential employers.

The IB introduced them a few years ago in response to requests from parents for a formal certification of progress at age 16. The subjects assessed in this way are Maths, English, Sciences, Humanities, Foreign Language (new this year) and Interdisciplinary (IDU). This was our first year of trying them out – up till now we have relied on teacher-assessed grades alone. These have been accepted by sixth form departments and colleges but we wanted to explore whether the extra stress of sitting exams was worth the extra credibility which they provide.

The first point is that they are what they say on the tin – electronic. The assessment files, which are very large, are downloaded a few days before the assessment takes place and then Access codes to unlock them are made available on the day of the assessment. The actual assessment takes place on screen and is then encrypted and sent back to the IB for marking. Every aspect of that worked perfectly – we had one glitch on one PC for a few seconds but the IB noticed that and logged it and no time was lost. Compared to the enormously cumbersome system of receiving, storing, retrieving, distributing exam papers, which we are currently doing for external candidates, this was a huge step forward. The amount of wastage of time, plastics, papers, postage and stress connected with the GCSE/IGCSE system is staggering.

However there is one downside to this. The IB are VERY protective of their materials and it has not yet been possible for teaching staff even to see the questions that were asked in any of the assessments. Apparently this is partly because of COVID and some schools worldwide have been given extra time to work through alternative assessment procedures. In two weeks time we will be allowed to access the assessments and then teachers will be able to go over them with the students.

Until then we don't really know in much detail what they were like but I have informal feedback from many of the students who sat them. Feedback seemed to fall roughly into three groups. Firstly some thought that they were easier, and a lot more enjoyable, than GCSEs which they had taken in some of the same subjects. Each assessment is only 2 hours long and the questions are often presented in the form of videos to watch and then analyse. Some thought that they were 'ok', very similar to our own internal assessments and not too stressful to complete. A few did not find them congenial at all. Overall the feeling was that the English paper was the easiest and Maths the hardest but that is often the feedback you get from a class doing any sort of assessments!

The IDU was a bit odd, we thought. It was meant to be an interdisciplinary unit combining Humanities and Maths but the Maths element was very simple and seemed a bit of an afterthought in what was essentially a Geography paper.

So now we wait. Grades will be revealed on 1 August worldwide. This is well in advance of the GCSE results day which is 25 August. For each student we submitted Teacher Predictions and we will be looking very carefully at how much variance there is between those and the final grades. For any student who passes all six e-assessments, plus the Personal Project plus the Arts e-portfolio, there is the additional carrot of a full IB-signed 'MYP Certificate'.

Last year about 6,000 Certificates were awarded worldwide, out of about 7,000 candidates. Another 75,000 students only entered their Personal Projects for external moderation and so relied on teacher-assessed grades for the rest of their results. So far, it seems, the IB drive to encourage schools to adopt e-assessments is making slow progress. Our own experience has been mostly positive, and if the results are in line with our expectations then I will be keen continue to encourage our own students to go down this route as a valid alternative to GCSEs.

Thanks go to all our teaching staff and to the participating students who bravely entered without really knowing what to expect. Thanks above all to one student in particular whose own Personal Project involved setting up the computer suite – it was largely due to his enthusiasm and skills that it all worked!

Dr Sturdy

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