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Understanding Assessment: empowering teachers with a new course


Only one third of teachers feel ‘very confident’ conducting assessment as part of their day-to-day teaching, and under half of teachers received training in assessment as part of their initial teacher training.  These were the concerning findings of the final report of Making Waves: Building a Better Future for Assessment issued at the end of last year by the Centre for Education and Youth and Pearson UK. These findings, coupled with the research and customer insights of colleagues at Cambridge were the impetus behind a new online assessment training course designed specifically for teachers to use practically in the classroom: Understanding Assessment: A practical course for teachers.

“Using assessment in the classroom is without a doubt one of the most influential elements of teaching success, but it’s not covered in detail in initial teacher training and often left to ad-hoc training arrangements” explains Dr Simon Child, Head of Assessment Training at Cambridge Assessment Network. “The report’s findings show that teachers feel assessment training is ‘far too limited’ and teachers therefore lack confidence, particularly early on in their careers.  Recognising and developing assessment expertise is therefore a key way to insulate against issues around teacher retention. In addition, while established teachers may have the motivation and interest in keeping up to date with the latest developments in assessment, as we all know, their time is very limited.”

The need for a ‘pick up and go’ assessment training solution was also being heard by Paul Ellis, Head of Teaching and Learning at Cambridge Assessment International Education. Teachers and school leaders were regularly telling Paul and his colleagues globally that they needed more support with best practice in classroom assessment. “The unwelcome arrival of the global pandemic escalated the need for an online assessment training course” says Paul. “Teachers were being challenged with knowing the fundamental principles of assessment and then finding new ways to assess. We were already planning the course but that really got the wheels spinning.”

“We wanted to create something that could provide teachers with the evidence-based knowledge to feel confident that their approach to assessment is fair, accessible and a positive experience for students. The practical elements were something we wanted to particularly focus on. For time-limited teachers, there is a lot of theory out there, but we wanted this to be immediate, digestible and practical.”

Paul approached the Assessment Network, who have over fifteen years of experience designing and delivering assessment training (“Together we formed the perfect triangle of teaching, assessment and learning” says Paul) and, together the teams developed Understanding Assessment: A Practical Course for Teachers.

This new online course has been created specifically to support teachers and school leaders to make the best assessment-related judgements and decisions for their students, and to act as a launchpad for further professional development in assessment.

Understanding Assessment has been designed to be flexible to fit into busy working schedules and can be studied and revisited for up to 12 months after teachers sign onto the course.

The demand is clear – since the launch of the Understanding Assessment in May 2021, over 5000 teachers and school leaders from around the world have registered onto the course. Through lively discussion forums, they’ve been sharing experiences, practice and learning with each other as they progress through the following modules:

  • Introduction to the principles of assessment
  • Understanding assessment purposes
  • Introduction to designing and reviewing multiple-choice questions
  • Powerful questions to support teaching
  • Practical methods to improve marking quality
  • Overcoming learner barriers and challenges in assessment

Understanding Assessment is underpinned by the standards set out in the Early Careers Framework, but is also informed by the Assessment Professional Learning Framework –  a statement about what the team think good professional learning in assessment looks like and how it can be achieved:

Dr Child argues that the link between Understanding Assessment and the framework is essential in helping teachers understand what to expect from the course: “A lot of teacher CPD is very much ‘in the moment’ in that it targets a specific skill for a short period of time. The framework aims to take a more longitudinal view of CPD – using on-going reflection to support innovation and renewed teacher confidence in their own practice or that of their school.”

Understanding Assessment is an ideal starting point for teachers wishing to develop their assessment understanding for practical use in the classroom. From there they can use the professional framework to continue to reflect on their motivations to learn more about assessment, their most appropriate next learning steps, and ultimately support others in building their assessment expertise.”

William Hannah, a Teacher and Exams Officer based in Italy was pleased with the flexibility of the course: “As a busy teacher, its often difficult to find time to dedicate to professional development.  Cambridge self-study courses have allowed myself and my team to engage in professional development at a time and place suited to them.  It allows us to start and stop when required and we can pick it back up again when we had the time.  It also allowed us to learn and practice new techniques without having to rush through the course.

The Understanding Assessment course took me back to basics and reminded me of the principles of assessment.  It was also a great opportunity for me to review the assessment approaches that my team and I use, and how we could create better assessments.  Starting next academic year, we aim to try some of these new assessment strategies out, as well as working together to create better assessments for our students to enhance teaching and learning.”

For teachers looking to build on their learning, the Assessment Network also offers a range of online courses delving deeper into different aspect of assessment, as well as offering a Postgraduate Qualification in partnership with the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education.

Understanding Assessment is £50 for teachers. Find out more and book

Take a look at the Assessment Network’s other assessment training opportunities

As well as being colleagues at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, Simon and Paul are also co-authors of a new book: The What, Why and How of Assessment.


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