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An exciting new step for the MYP

MYP-Stock-03 - Assessment article imageIn the biggest transformation to the MYP since its launch, 2016 will see the IB externally assess MYP Year 5 students. But not in the traditional pen and paper format. The eAssessment will use on-screen examinations – including multimedia and interactive activities – and ePortfolios to test students, bringing assessments in line with 21st-century learning.

Before the eAssessment is launched to IB World Schools all over the globe, the IB has been working to ensure it is fit-for-purpose. Trials, which took place throughout 2013, have paved the way for a live pilot that begins this May. IB World magazine’s Sophie-Marie Odum speaks to Head of MYP Assessment Gareth Hegarty about how the eAssessment will improve teaching and learning outcomes by helping schools become more IT focused, and how the IB will support schools and teachers who choose to offer electronic assessment.

How does the MYP eAssessment represent a new phase for the IB? 

This is a big change for the MYP because it’s the first time we have had any external examinations, but it’s an exciting step as we develop a new rigorous assessment for the programme. There are two types of assessment: the first is the on-screen exams, which have been written carefully to match the achievement criteria for the MYP. This allows students to demonstrate their achievement against each criterion in each of the subject groups.

The exams are written using a unit planner approach, similar to the method MYP teachers use to combine concepts and contexts to create a statement of inquiry and inquiry questions and, through these, a series of rich learning experiences. Through this process we reinforce good MYP practice and ensure the distinctive MYP nature of the exams. This is complemented by making use of media and interactive functions to ensure the eAssessment is rich, contextualized and authentic.

The second type of assessment is the ePortfolio. Some subjects – such as art, design, physical and health education and language acquisition – are not appropriate for examinations. Here, we provide a partially-completed unit planner for teachers to develop. This enables them to adapt the unit to their needs and context whilst still setting out the parameters we need to ensure fair and reliable assessment.

With eAssessment we can begin to establish clear, global standards of achievement in Year 5 of the MYP. This is a powerful mechanism for informing schools and teachers about their students and their teaching practice.

Although the eAssessment is optional for schools, the personal project component will be mandatory for all MYP Year 5 students. So, for the first time, we have one means by which the whole MYP community will take part in a globally standardized assessment.

What does the eAssessment mean for students?

Our aim is that students enjoy a richer experience, as their teachers will have access to a greater range of contemporary stimulus material and media content for questioning and discussion. For example, with the interdisciplinary assessments, web-based pre-release material will be produced for each session, which is rich in media content and designed to promote discussion in the classroom, this helps to enhance teaching and learning.

The eAssessment should provide an appropriate and natural culmination to students’ MYP study. We have been careful not to over-assess students and we hope that, through the use of technology and the fact that the assessments focus on deeper levels of thinking, the examination process should be an engaging, positive experience for them.

The need for electronic examinations is clearly there as nearly 98 per cent of students involved in a survey indicated they had used a computer or mobile device for schoolwork in the past week, but how do the new assessments cater for students who may not be as computer literate? Or who may find it particularly difficult?

The examinations don’t require a deep understanding of IT – they just require typical skills associated with using spreadsheets and word processors. So the IT demand on students is fairly low. We are also creating opportunities for students to get plenty of practice before sitting their examinations such as a familiarization environment and specimen examinations.

Furthermore, the assessment design aims to support schools in becoming more IT focused; in the past, assessment has been a barrier to this. Students would use IT in their classrooms during lessons but when it came to exams, they were back to pen and paper. Now students will get the full benefit of using IT as a means for expressing their ideas, just as they would have done throughout their studies. The ePortfolio approach also facilitates work to remain in the digital domain or allows performance activities to be captured digitally. Therefore, we hope to stimulate schools to do more IT work.

With regard to the practicality of the assessments, if schools use desktop computers instead of laptops, will this affect exam conditions?

Either type of machine should be fine. The key thing is that students should be familiar and comfortable with the machine they are using.

One of the challenges of a larger screen is keeping work private for the purposes of academic honesty.  We will develop procedures and regulations for setting up exam rooms in collaboration with schools during the pilot. These procedures will satisfy our needs for security and academic honesty, but will be manageable for schools.

Will teachers require extra training for eAssessment?

The assessments are carefully tailored to the MYP and so no special training or preparation should be required beyond enabling students to practice achieving against the published subject criteria and using the familiarization environment. So the best preparation teachers can offer their students for the exams is good MYP teaching practice. However, eAssessment will provide teachers access to a wide range of assessment material such as onscreen examinations and eportfolio materials. They can use past assessments to discuss the interesting context in which our questions are set, adding another dimension to teaching the MYP.

How many schools do you see taking up eAssessment for the MYP?

Over 2,000 candidates from over 60 schools are taking part in the pilot, demonstrating that there is a great deal of interest. Next year will be the first year that the eAssessment will be the route to the MYP certificate and course results so we are expecting a take-up similar to the candidature for the current moderation session. We anticipate growth thereafter as people see the quality and benefits of the eAssessment and they become formally recognized by regulators, governments and universities. We hope that eAssessment will be a driver for growth of the programme, enabling the MYP to reach more students around the world.

What was the biggest lesson learned from the trials, and how has this shaped the pilots?

The importance of familiarizing students with the platform and the technology was an important lesson. The ‘familiarization environment’, which will be available to all MYP schools, will certainly reassure the users.

We have also learned to focus on better ways to input information in science and mathematics in particular, so that students are able to express themselves easily and naturally on-screen. For example, when using a calculator, students often carry out multiple lines of calculation which would usually be displayed on the device. The difficulty lies in transferring that information on to another screen. To avoid students having to input information twice, we have worked with calculator manufacturers to produce on-screen simulations of their calculators. Information can be captured directly from the calculator screen and into the answer box. We’ve also developed an ‘equation editor’ to make writing equations quick and easy in those subjects.

What does the IB hope to gain from the pilots?

Gareth Hegarty, Head of MYP Assessment

The pilots will give us further analysis of how our exam structure works and how students respond to the questions. We will also gain a clear understanding of the equivalence of our examinations in comparison to other qualifications, which we will then use to gain greater recognition from regulators and other governmental organizations around the world. In addition, we will get feedback from schools regarding the processes for managing the assessments. This will all feed into a smooth running of the first live session in 2016.

Has it always been part of the IB’s plan for the MYP to go electronic?

The ‘Next Chapter’ development of the MYP has always included delivery of the programme  through electronic means. This is also consistent with the IB’s strategic goal to increase our digital presence and this is a very positive step in that direction.

What next: Once the eAssessment becomes available to all IB World Schools, how can they get involved?

I advise schools to keep reading reports and information released on the programme resource centre. There will also be plenty of information and presentations at regional conferences, and an opportunity to register for the 2016 examinations until October 2015.

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