In yesterday’s post I put forward some thoughts on terminal second-level examinations and the effect that faring poorly in these could have for young adults’ future lives.
I received a comment on the topic from a correspondent who asserted:
…does success in exams equal education? Exams are an outmoded assessment tool – success in them means nothing more than a certificate and maybe entry into higher education – where you sit more exams until you finally move into the real world…where you realise your so called education did you a grave disservice.
Can you think? Can you create? Can you problem solve? Does an exam system fit into 21st century learning?
Now read on…
Do we have practical solutions (as opposed to high aspirations) about the best way to serve students in the 21st century?
Hard to say.
I would suggest that the best way to prepare people for the workplace is to evaluate learners as if they were in the workplace. So let’s look briefly at the role of certification in this context.
Certification is the ability to prove through testing if an individual has achieved a mastery of skills, knowledge and attitude. Certification can also prove the ability of an individual to apply those skills and knowledge in specified areas and job functions.
(Certification: Corporate America’s Secret Weapon. Hilbink, P. 2004 p.2).
In 1959, Donald L. Kirkpatrick first published his four-level training evaluation model (see Table 1) in a series of articles for the US Training and Development Journal. “The reason for evaluating is to determine the effectiveness of a training program” (Evaluating Training Programs, 2006, p3). The reason for the four-level model then “was to clarify the elusive term evaluation” (2006, xv). In articulating evaluation through each of the four levels – reaction, learning, behaviour and results – the model aspires to
inspire us to look beyond our traditional classroom content delivery model and opens windows to the many way we can improve the performance of our organisations.
Table 1 Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Model
In the context of Kirkpatrick’s Four Level Model, second-level certification is typically interpreted at Levels Two. We can say that the most effective approach to understanding how well learners have acquired new knowledge, skills, and expertise is to ask them to demonstrate what they have learned: they sit a test. In the context of second-level education, certification assesses the learner at Level 2: Transfer of Learning. It is important to measure learning transfer because no change in behaviour can be expected unless one or more of these learning objectives have been accomplished. Measuring learning means determining one or more of the following metrics:
- What knowledge was learned?
- What skills were developed or improved?
- What attitudes were changed?
The benefits to conducting Level Two tests are that the learner must demonstrate that the learning transfer has occurred, and that the assessment provides verifiable and conclusive evidence that an improvement has occurred in knowledge, skills, or attitudes.
Assessment tests are a powerful tool for organisations, institutions and society-at-large, as they combine a hierarchical observation and a normalising judgement. Testing makes individuals visible (who has attained the qualification? who has not attained certification?) and enables them to be categorised (how well did they do?). Exams also normalize people by assessing them according to the same metric, and subsequently measures them in relation to one common standard.
Having established the value of Level Two assessments to understand how well knowledge has been transferred, what next? Does the education system as it currently exists meet the needs of students as they prepare for life in the Information Age, or is there a lag between national educational policies & strategies, and how students’ skill need to be shaped?
Substantial resources (time, well-paid teacher, continuous training for educators etc) are required to undertake these types of evaluations, and the ministries and agencies with responsibility for managing these tasks don’t seem to have the influencing powers to ensure these assets are in place.
A cynic might say that it’s because such an initiative requires long-term planning. The results of such an approach mightn’t be seen for five to ten years, and a politician who advocated such a spend on education might not be in a position, a decade or so later, to reap the rewards of such an innovation in national education policy.
Hilbink, P. (2004) Certification: Corporate America’s Secret Weapon [Internet] Available from: <http://www.digital-latitudes.com/docs/Cert_White_Paper.pdf> [Accessed 7 July, 2008]
Kirkpatrick, D. & Kirkpatrick, J. (2006) Evaluating Training Programs. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.