Inaugural Lecture in the UBC-Paragon Lecture Series

Thursday, January 19, 2017  |  2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
2125 Main Mall, Neville Scarfe Building, Room 310

“Some inconvenient truths about educational assessment: We need it but it’s always wrong”

with Professor Gavin T. L. Brown, Ph.D., The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Assessment in the form of testing and examination has long dominated educational practice with substantial consequences attached to high quality performance (e.g., graduation, promotion, certification, scholarship, etc.). It has also been long presumed that assessments are accurate indicators of quality in a student’s learning, a teacher’s instruction, and an institution’s education. The validity of those claims is the subject matter of psychometrics which statistically models the quality criteria of responses to assessments, thus leading to accurate estimation of student ability. Psychometric research also depends on the assumption that students are well-prepared, make maximal effort, and that extraneous factors (e.g., language, parental education, ethnicity, etc.) have little systematic impact on the validity of interpretations or decisions arising from testing.

However, increasing emphasis has been put on the use of additional and alternative assessment methods and on using assessments formatively to improve student learning, teacher instruction, and institutional outcomes. Accurate description of learner strengths and weaknesses are used to generate feedback to instructors as to who needs to be taught what next and to learners as to what they themselves can do to improve. This requires an assessment capable teaching force who can exploit the in-the-moment, on-the-fly processes of classroom interaction into valid judgements about student learning, the generation of constructive feedback, and the adjustment of pedagogical and curricular practices so as to maximise improvement.

However, evidence shows us that these goals are difficult to attain largely because of human and social factors and conditions that interact with our best efforts at high-quality assessment. Although good assessment can offer some protection from charlatans, it turns out our testing and our interactive assessments are unsurprisingly error-prone. Nonetheless, an open society persists by pursuing insights from assessments carefully and with attention to the plausibility that we could be wrong about educational processes and outcomes.

Brief Biography

Prof Gavin Brown is the Director of the Quantitative Data Analysis and Research Unit in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at The University of Auckland. His research focuses on the psychological and social-cultural aspects of educational assessment that impact on the validity of testing and decision-making. Gavin worked for 13 years as a secondary school and adult educator in New Zealand after finishing a BEd TESL at Concordia University, Montreal. He worked for 9 years as a standardised test developer, including working with Prof John Hattie on a computer-assisted, standardised test system for reading, writing, and mathematics, now used extensively in New Zealand schools. He is an author of >140 chapters, journal articles, or books. His most recent book, Assessment of Student Achievement, will be published in 2017 by Routledge. Dr. Brown is an Honorary Professor at the Education University of Hong Kong and an Affiliated Professor at the University of Umea, Sweden.

About the UBC-Paragon Lecture Series

The Lecture Series is one of several initiatives that stem from the partnership among the University of British Columbia (Vancouver Campus), Faculty of Education, Office of the Provost, and Paragon Testing Enterprises (a subsidiary of the University of British Columbia) and the Paragon UBC Professorship in Psychometrics and Measurement. This research initiative and its component activities enhance UBC’s standing as a global leader in research and graduate student training in the field of the statistical science of measurement and highlights UBC’s Faculty of Education a Canadian centre of excellence drawing on visiting scholars and scientists to collaborate with researchers and interact with graduate students in the field.