Reimagining assessment for the next generation of world shapers

The pandemic caused two years of disruption for GCSE and A level exams, with 2022 marking the first-time pupils formally sat their exams since 2019. However, for one qualification at CATS Global Schools (CGS), the University Foundation Programme (UFP), COVID-19 didn’t present the same assessment challenges that traditional exams faced, such as inaccurate or inflated grades. Why? Because testing had already started to go online. The pandemic simply accelerated a full-scale roll-out in 2020, ensuring students’ results were not impacted.

“Electronic assessment was a no brainer, it meant we could enhance the security and validity of the grades, showing universities our rigorous and transparent approach to assessment.”

Jonathan Hawkins

Director of the CATS University Foundation Programme

Pioneering a qualification for international students

A pioneer of the UFP, CGS (formerly CATS Colleges) was among the first to develop the qualification in the 1980s to meet the rising demand of international students seeking a pathway to a UK university. It was designed for students who needed an extra year of high-quality tuition to progress to a university in the UK.
A Foundation Programme, which is accepted by 99% of UK universities, is a faster way to progress to university than the traditional A level route.

Online Assessment – “a no brainer”

The CGS online assessment journey started in 2017 when Jonathan Hawkins, Director of the CATS UFP visited an education fair and was inspired by the possibility of reimagining assessment. He said:
“We constantly look at how we can develop the foundation programme, and because we’re independent, we can move quickly to innovate. Electronic assessment was a no brainer, it meant we could enhance the security and validity of the grades, showing universities our rigorous and transparent approach to assessment.
“The pandemic wasn’t a motivating factor in our decision, but it certainly accelerated roll-out.”

“We’ve set ourselves a target of being completely online by summer 2023.”

Craig Wilson

Managing Director, Schools

Simplifying the administration of marking and moderation

Craig Wilson, Managing Director Schools, goes on to talk about the positive impact of online assessment:
“Everyone, by that I mean the students, parents, and universities, can be assured that the grades reflect a student’s achievements.
“Online assessment has simplified the administration of marking and moderation too. The whole process is more efficient. No longer does an Exam Officer have to spend hours printing hard copy exam papers, arrange the secure despatch to various test centres and scan the papers for marking when the exams are over. In addition, invigilators don’t need to distribute papers in exam halls, and it’s now easy for papers to go to different schools to be marked. Finally, our External Examiners can themselves select a random sample for moderation, improving the validity of the exam.”
“On top of the time saved, we’ve saved on printing costs, and the assessment platform we use is secure.”

Preparation for logistical challenges

When asked if there were any pitfalls with online assessment, Jonathan said:
“Not pitfalls exactly, but areas to be mindful of. Some of the challenges with electronic assessment are the same as if the exams were paper-based. For example, there’s the possibility of cheating, but our chosen platform prevents this through our ability to monitor the student whilst they take the exam, preventing them from accessing applications outside the exam platform.
“We are also prepared for logistical challenges such as students with malfunctioning laptops, battery power running out, and a weak Wi-Fi signal. To overcome this, we provide students with a checklist of things to do before their exams to prevent these issues and we have arrangements in place such as USBs where the platform can save if Wi-Fi is a problem.”
Talking about a full-scale roll-out, Jonathan adds:
“Maths is the only subject where we’re still using paper, as its faster to write formulae by hand. However, this year, we have been piloting the use of tablets working with the platform provider with the aim of going completely online for 2023.”

Reflecting the world of work

The drive for full online assessment is a personal priority for Craig. It is part of his plan to help CGS “inspire the next generation of world shapers”, which is the vision of CATS Global Schools.
“As an organisation we are committed to equipping students with the skills they need to thrive tomorrow – at university or the workplace. Online assessment is reflective of the world of work. For example, I rarely pick up a pen and work with a computer daily.”
“Students have the opportunity to practice on the platform before their exams too. In many ways, it is more engaging than a paper exam. Question stimulants can be web pages, video clips, audio, and images. Much more like the real world than a paper exam.”

Tips for educators considering online assessment

For educators considering the move to online assessment, Jonathan shares three tips:
“Firstly, go for it; it works! Secondly, engage stakeholders throughout the implementation process to help overcome any resistance.
“In 2019, Jisc1, through its digital experience insights survey, found that only 34 per cent of teaching staff in higher education were given regular opportunities to develop their digital skills, so keeping teachers, assessors and students informed and providing training is essential.
“And finally, choose the platform carefully. We started our journey with one provider but quickly realised the interface was not intuitive for students. So, we are now working with DigiExam, which focuses on security, reliability, and privacy to ensure the highest academic integrity. They are very collaborative in their approach and a pleasure to work with.”

So, what’s next for CGS in its online assessment journey?

Craig comments:
“We’ve set ourselves a target of being completely online by summer 2023. Once we’re confident that tablets are the right tool for maths students, we’ll have reimagined assessment and delivered our promise of inspiring the next generation of world shapers.”