It’s the holiday season in the Northern Hemisphere. Candles and other lights shine through dark evenings to suggest solace from Omicron. Thoughts move towards reinvention in the new year. Time for reflection and to consider future goals, including some warm and positive thoughts?

As well as working at Questionmark and Learnosity, I’ve had the honor to serve in 2021 as Chairperson of the ATP, the testing and assessment industry body. This gives me a vantage point over the world of assessment. A lot is happening – the digital divide, the “great resignation”, huge amounts of reskilling, but I see four strong winds blowing.

One wind is industry consolidation. Assessment companies are coming together – Yardstick and ProctorU merged, Turnitin bought Examsoft and ProctorExam, my company Questionmark was acquired by Learnosity and more. I think PSI bought another 8 businesses in 2021! Part of the reason is increasing stakeholder expectations, what my colleagues call “the Assessment Excellence Gap”. You need better technology and scale to deliver excellent assessment – including all the “abilities” like reliability, scalability, translatability, maintainability, usability and availability. Not to mention security, privacy and fairness. What better way to achieve wholeness than to own more of the end-to-end?

I wish I didn’t have to mention it, but Covid is still out there impacting everything and blowing digital acceleration. McKinsey called the first wave the “quickening”: 10 years forward jumped in 90 days of time. Digital and remote instruction and assessment have flown. Don’t imagine the world will go back to being how it was because it won’t. It’s not possible. We have accelerated and with that, there are some real moves forward.

Wind three is just a warm breeze now. There is more talk of AI than practical application. But AI can potentially classify people better, find test fraud faster and personalize education effectively. There are technical and societal challenges, but AI has the potential to transform assessment. This year has seen a deeper understanding of what AI can achieve and the essential human-in-the-loop element to that scope.

But I think the biggest wind, one that may well prevail for the next decade is a growing realization that tests need to be more inclusive. Assessments give data to make objective people decisions and in theory, such objective measurement should aid diversity, by removing subjective prejudice. But in practice there are many ways where tests and exams can hinder inclusivity, some of them poorly understood, for example:

  • Scores in tests for young people in many countries correlate highly with the wealth of test taker families. What can we do about this?
  • Tests are mostly given in a single language, yet an important minority of people in every country are migrants who speak another language. How fair are tests to such people?
  • According to WHO, over 1 billion people live with some form of disability. What more can we do in the testing community to allow them to show their capabilities?
  • In many countries, there are worrying statistics around race and gender.
  • And what should we do about test anxiety, which is not well understood but clearly real?

Tests are a great boon for society. But historically tests have been used often to divide people, to separate people who are good at something from people who are less good.

But to quote from Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane:  “You don’t pass or fail at being a person”. And surely everyone has the potential to impact our world positively: “No one is too small to make a difference”.

It may sound like a warm fuzzy holiday message, but I’d like to suggest that tests need to focus more on providing rich information about a person’s skills and abilities. I know people are thinking and working on this, but we need to find ways in which everyone can pass a test, not just make tests that cut people into passes and fails. Perhaps, a focus on the human side of testing.

I wish those who can take time off at this time of year happy holidays, and hope this provides food for thought in 2022.

Posted by John Kleeman, EVP and Founder