Using Paper-based alongside Online Assessments

When online assessment is discussed, it is often compared to more familiar, paper-based assessment and the two are weighed against each other as if they were mutually exclusive or in opposition to one another.

It is seen as an ‘either-or’ choice. However, there is plenty of scope for schools to adopt a hybrid model to harness the benefits of both. Schools might want to use online assessments during the year with paper based at either end - or vice versa. Alternatively, they might prefer to use paper whilst also developing their pupils’ online assessment literacy.

Whatever each individual school decides will depend on what information they want from an assessment at that point during the year. Here are some of the factors to consider when making decisions:

1) Balancing quick and rich data: Online assessments can provide absolute and comparative data quickly and easily, giving a quick overview of progress for reporting purposes. Furthermore, online assessments can efficiently highlight general areas of weakness at a pupil, cohort, and school level. This diagnostic information can help teachers address the gaps in their pupils’ learning. When more time is available, or the purpose is different, paper-based assessments can be used.

2) Pupils need to be prepared for a variety of future assessments: This year has seen a move towards online assessments, with some International GCSE and AS Level mock exams being trialled online. It is believed that over the next few years, secondary school pupils will start to take more high-stakes assessments online. But where does that leave primary school assessments? While the National Curriculum tests, known as the SATs, are currently being taken on paper, it is important that pupils continue to train the techniques associated with completing paper-based assessments. However, it is also important for pupils to begin developing their digital skills and digital literacy so that they have a solid foundation on which to build as they start taking high-stakes online assessments.

3) Alleviate anxiety through variety: Using a range of delivery methods for assessments also has the potential to remove some assessment anxiety. Most teachers can recall pupils who find it impossible to demonstrate their full understanding in a typical test situation. Perhaps administering assessments in different ways at different points in the year can remove some of the anxiety associated with typical test taking so that teachers can get a more accurate picture of their pupils’ understanding.

At different points during the year, schools have different requirements from their assessments, whether these be formative, diagnostic, or summative. They also have varying time pressures and competing priorities, all of which will contribute to decisions about which assessment is best fit for purpose. However, perhaps the question is not “should we use paper-based or online assessments?” but “how can we use both in order to achieve the best results for pupils, teachers, and school leaders?”