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Navigating the New Assessment Regime: Balancing Pedagogy and AI in an Era of Standardisation

Updated: Jul 9

by Rebecca Thomas

As we stand on the precipice of a new assessment regime in New Zealand education, it's crucial to reflect on our past experiences and maintain a clear vision of what truly matters in education. Having witnessed the impacts of similar systems in the UK, and now facing the additional complexities introduced by artificial intelligence and standardised assessments, we should consider how we can avoid potential pitfalls and maintain the essence of effective teaching and learning.

The Importance of Effective Pedagogy

Rewind to 2022, the NZCER conducted a literature review aimed at developing a Common Practice Model for Literacy, Communication, and Maths. This initiative sought to identify common themes in evidence-based pedagogical approaches. What made this direction unique was its alignment with te ao Māori principles, particularly the concept of relational ontology, which resonates with the whakapapa of Te Mātaiaho.

Despite some people’s reservations and confusion with the title (The Common Practice Model), understanding that a deep dive into the effective ways of ‘how’ to deliver effective teaching and learning seemed sensible - a worth while endeavour.

This focus on effective pedagogy is not just a matter of academic interest. As Emeritus Professor Russell Bishop notes in his book ,'Leading to the North-East' the solution to educational challenges, such as the literacy crisis, lies not in debates about specific approaches but in the pedagogy used and ensuring its success. This perspective is particularly relevant for Māori learners and aligns with culturally responsive teaching practices.

The Risk of Narrowing Focus in a Standardised System

As we move towards a more standardised assessment regime, it's crucial to remember the potential downsides of such systems. The new assessment framework, while well-intentioned, introduces several elements that could potentially create a high-pressure environment:

1. Frequent standardised assessments (twice-yearly for Years 3-8)

2. Early screening and intervention (phonics checks in the first year of school)

3. National monitoring tied to achievement targets

4. Clearer reporting to parents against specific milestones

5. Alignment with curriculum progress steps

These factors may seem reasonable and practical, with some schools already implementing similar approaches. The government's insistence on the absence of league tables is also noteworthy. However, we must remain vigilant. As pressure increases from top-down accountability for meeting targets, schools might still experience:

  1. "Teaching to the test," narrowing curriculum focus

  2. Increased stress on students and teachers

  3. Distortion of educational priorities (e.g., reducing enrichment activities)

  4. Informal competition between schools based on results (especially in locations of falling rolls)

  5. Overemphasis on assessed subjects at the expense of holistic education

These potential outcomes highlight the need for careful implementation and ongoing evaluation of the new assessment regime to maintain a balanced approach to education where students remain front and centre (Mātaitipu) and not performance targets/results.

The AI Wild Card: A New Layer of Complexity

Compounding these challenges is the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence in education. We now face not only the possibility of AI systems that can analyse student work from just a photograph of their handwritten writing sample and fed into an e-asTTle rubric language model (fully customisable by the creator) to generate scores, but also added to this the temptation for teachers to rely on AI for lesson planning specifically aimed at improving test scores.

This introduces additional concerns:

1. Potential over-reliance on AI-generated lesson plans

2. Risk of further narrowing the curriculum to fit AI-suggested content

3. Possible loss of teacher creativity and responsiveness to individual student needs

4. Ethical questions about the role of AI in shaping educational experiences

Perhaps the most ethical question on top for us immediately as teachers begin to play with this new tool is: How do we protect students' personal information and work samples in AI-driven systems?

Maintaining Balance in the New Regime

As we implement new assessment tools and grapple with AI advancements, it's crucial to remember that these are means to an end, not the end itself. Here are some suggestions for maintaining a balanced approach:

#1 Prioritise Pedagogy: Keep the school's strategic focus on effective teaching methods rather than assessment outcomes.

#2 Embrace Cultural Responsiveness: Ensure that assessment practices consider diverse cultural perspectives, particularly te ao Māori.

#3 Maintain Curriculum Breadth: Resist the temptation to narrow the curriculum in pursuit of improved test scores or AI-friendly content.

#4 Professional Development: Focus PLD on enhancing pedagogical skills, understanding AI's role in education, and using assessment data effectively.

#5 Collaborative Approach: Encourage dialogue among educators to address challenges collectively and share best practices for balancing standardised assessments with holistic education.

#6 Student Well-being: Ensure that assessment practices, whether traditional or AI-driven, do not create undue stress, especially for younger students.

#7 Ethical AI Use: Develop clear guidelines for the use of AI in assessment and lesson planning, prioritising transparency and maintaining teacher autonomy.

The Learning Without Limits Approach

To counter these risks, we might look to innovative approaches like Dame Alison Peacock's "Learning Without Limits." This model emphasises creating an environment of trust, co-agency, inclusivity, and embracing unpredictability in learning - elements that may be challenging to replicate in standardised assessment systems or AI-driven planning.

Navigating the AI and Standardised Assessment Landscape

As we incorporate AI and standardised assessments into our educational practices, we must:

1. Engage in ongoing discussions about the ethical implications of AI in education and the potential pressures of standardised assessments.

2. Ensure that AI tools and assessment practices enhance, rather than replace, the vital role of educators.

3. Maintain a critical eye on the limitations and potential biases of AI systems and standardised tests.

4. Continue to prioritise human interaction, relationship-building, and individualised approaches in the learning process.

5. Use assessment data and AI-generated insights as tools to inform teaching, not as rigid determinants of educational approaches.

Our goal should be to create an education system that empowers all students, respects cultural diversity, and prepares young people for the complex world they will inherit - a world increasingly shaped by AI and data-driven decision-making.

Let's keep the magic of teaching alive by prioritising pedagogy, maintaining a broad vision of education, and thoughtfully integrating technological advancements and assessment practices in ways that support, rather than displace, the irreplaceable human elements of teaching and learning.

It's crucial for educators to stay alert and discerning, championing the comprehensive growth of each student. We must ensure that our drive for standardised achievement doesn't overshadow genuine learning and student well-being. Let's resist the temptation to place artificial limits on our students based on test results. Instead, we should continue to nurture their unpredictable creativity and unique potential, recognising that true education often transcends what can be measured by standardised assessments.

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