Distance learning
With some children learning from home and others attending classes in person, designing fair assessments has presented unique logistical challenges for educators Image Credit: For illustrative purpose only.

Abu Dhabi: Schools across the UAE are prepping for the exams that will mark the end of the first term of blended learning.

With some children learning from home and others attending classes in person, designing fair assessments has presented unique logistical challenges for educators. These have only been compounded with the nature of learning itself changing, partly due to the pandemic and partly because of the shifting demands of the information age. In addition, teachers have also had to cater to varying objectives for children of different grade levels.

“Teachers and exam boards the world over have been starting to rethink assessment. How do we gain a clear picture of what children can do, unaided, when they are distance learning? For the primary teacher, rapidly developing online assessment materials has been necessary, including live small group sessions via Zoom or MS Teams. More traditional tests and quizzes have been designed using child friendly platforms, and scholarship has also been handed over to pupils for project-based learning, which involves some collaboration with peers that can then be assessed against various objectives,” said Chris Nourse, principal at Al Ain Academy.

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Teachers at the secondary level have had it slightly easier because these children can turn in assignments, which makes it slightly easier for the teacher to gauge progress and attainment, Nourse said. Additionally, class discussions, and questions and answers, provide a clearer picture. “Board exams, however, remain unchanged at the moment with pupils sitting exams under the usual conditions and social distance within schools,” Nourse said.

According to Ramesh Mudgal, principal at Global Indian International School, assessments are an important part of learning.

Flexibility is key

“Like learning, assessment too is important. [It helps] ascertain that there are no gaps in learning, as students will have to show attainment and progress for the continuity of education,” he said. At the school, the use of advanced tools has helped ensure that students can face the assessments with confidence and ease. “We have always practised flexible modes of assessments. Therefore, holding assessments for students in person and online was not a challenge. Our tech team and highly skilled teachers used proven platforms for assessments, apart from the pen-paper testing models. Online quizzing apps, Google forms, and Google classrooms were also handy in ensuring assessments continued effectively even during the current scenario,” Mudgal explained.

AI tools, online platforms

Specifically, the school made use of AI to ensure, along with teacher monitoring. “We used a combination of third-party AI tools for examination and physical monitoring by the teachers. It worked well for us. The time-tested online examination platform we used for the exams captures any untoward movement, and automatically closes the exam in the event of any undefined movement. A very clear and crisp guideline has also been issued to students attending classes from home on the best practices of assessments. Further precautions have also been taken to ensure students do not have access to material for referring during assessments,” Mudgal said.

“Teachers supervise the assessments, with students keeping their cameras on at all times and without the aid of parents. A combination of digital online tools and digital copies of written responses will then be used to arrive at appropriate results of the students. Where needed, moderation was carried out,” the school leader added.

Fairness ensured

School leaders have also been clear that children will be fairly assessed, regardless of the mode of learning. “Some children who are in school may feel that their colleagues at home have an advantage when it comes to an assessment task — our primary Arabic teacher therefore decided to give her assessment to all her class at 5pm at home, to make it an even playing field. We wait with interest to see the results of this pilot,” Nourse said.

“We have an ethos of trust in the school and we know the vast majority of pupils will follow the instructions for an assessment. However, if there is a remarkable leap in progress, an experienced teacher will spot this and make the necessary checks on the current level of school work, to ensure it is a true reflection of that pupil’s ability,” the principal added.

Following assessments, schools are set to close for the winter break on December 13.