Ask the expert: Computer-Based Assessment

In this ‘Ask the expert’, Louise Bailey, Researcher in NFER’s Centre for Assessment and former teacher, answers some FAQs on Computer-Based Assessment.

I’ve heard the term Computer-Based Assessment, but I’m not exactly sure what it is…

It is possible to find many complex definitions of Computer-Based Assessment (CBA), but taken in its simplest form, it involves assessing pupils by means of computers and electronic devices rather than on paper. Other terms used for CBA include onscreen assessment and e-assessment.

CBA can be used for a range of purposes including diagnostic, formative and summative assessment and it is growing in prominence. Some higher stakes assessments have already moved to onscreen delivery. The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are both now delivered onscreen, as will be the next cycles of the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

CBA is also beginning to play a role in statutory national assessment programmes. Scotland has already introduced CBA for their national Primary and Secondary assessments, and Wales will phase in national onscreen tests in numeracy and reading from 2019. The first national assessment containing CBA in England, the onscreen multiplication tables check, will be rolled out in primary schools in 2020.

What are the benefits of CBA?

Onscreen assessments allow for more innovative types of question, for example simulations and animations, and can be especially useful to assess understanding of scientific concepts. These question types are increasingly being used in large-scale international assessments, but the high cost of development means that they have yet to play a significant role in smaller scale assessments.

Onscreen assessments, particularly those containing multiple-choice style questions, can be marked automatically with reports on pupil performance generated immediately. This can help to decrease teacher workload, as there is no need to mark pupils’ responses. Additionally pupils’ wait time for results can be significantly reduced.

The use of Computerised Adaptive Testing (CAT) may also be viewed as a positive development in onscreen testing. Such assessments can be tailored to the needs and abilities of individual learners and the testing burden reduced. CAT enables pupils to be routed through assessments in different ways to their peers and to focus on questions suited to their individual levels of ability.

CBA can also be seen as an acknowledgement of the role that screens play in the everyday lives of children. Since they use computers, tablets and smart phones frequently outside school, using the same devices for testing could help to link school learning with that taking place in everyday life.

What considerations have to be made before a move to CBA can take place?

Before implementing CBA within your assessment practice, consideration should first be given to how onscreen testing will fit into your school’s current assessment policy and whether it is actually the most effective assessment tool. Thought should be given to the validity of the assessment – for example in ensuring the assessment subject can be adequately tested via the onscreen assessment method and that results generated will adequately meet their intended purpose. It is also important to ensure that all pupils have a similar level of familiarity with the devices to be used, to decrease the likelihood that results are affected by their technological proficiency. There are also logistical considerations. CBA requires schools to have sufficient computer equipment available for use and in full working order. This includes the need for the hardware and software used to deliver CBA to be robust enough to avoid technical glitches at crucial times such as examinations. Internet access is also often a requirement for CBA, therefore schools need to consider whether their internet network has sufficient bandwidth and reliable coverage, as well as secure connections.

Written by Louise Bailey, Researcher at NFER.

Louise was a Year 1 teacher and taught English overseas before joining NFER’s Centre for Assessment in 2017.