Most students don’t love tests, viewing them at best as a necessary evil. But when the global pandemic shut down assessment centers all over the world, secondary-school students lost the ability to take qualifying tests that would enable them to attain credentials necessary to move to university and other programs. The prospect of major disruption for countless students was all too real. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 1.38 billion students worldwide were affected.
At that historic moment, we were already in the process of helping a large education board that provides secondary- and primary-school assessments for students aged 10, 15 and 17 to implement an assessment management solution. It became clear we needed to build in enough flexibility, scalability and reliability to make the system able to withstand not only this crisis but future ones, as well.
But in the days immediately following global stay-at-home orders, the priority shifted to creating a hybrid credential that combined internal, grade-level evaluations done by the school with an assessment of personal development and critical thinking. Under the exigent circumstances, the education board changed its approach for awarding qualifications to students from exam-based to internal marks-based. This interim credential enabled students to continue their plans, whether that meant applying to university or continuing to the next level at their schools.
Scrambling to find alternative assessment models
With its own revenues at stake, the education board focused on helping students and educators through the prolonged uncertainty that gripped the world of primary and secondary education. Facing widespread examination cancellations, the provider worked quickly, drawing up a series of short-term measures including validation of schools’ internal assessments and final grades to address the concerns of both students and institutions, addressing how final results would be calculated and issued in a year of unprecedented turmoil. Global lockdown orders prevented in-person delivery of exams, raising the question of how schools would examine students.
With operations in more than 150 countries and multiple languages, there was a great deal of complexity, including development in multiple time zones and across cultures. The provider handles more than 1 million subject-test results every year, with thousands of transcripts sent to roughly 800 universities globally.
The assessment management solution had to be scalable to handle the provider’s projected growth rate of 10% year on year. The solution needed to cover end-to-end assessment, including product definition, product delivery, tabulation of results and communication to students and institutions. The provider wanted as much process automation as possible to increase efficiency.
In one sense, COVID-related shutdowns could be said to have caused the biggest exception ever in the assessment processes. Given this, as the project team looked to develop a platform, it placed exception management at the core in order to increase resilience in the case of future emergencies. Rather than having to communicate offline or via endless email strings, the team wanted an issue tracking system so this issue would be called out automatically. This would offer built-in adaptability to handle unforeseen or exceptional scenarios, including examination cancelations and reschedules, manual results management, simulation-based moderation and transition from paper modes to alternate modes of assessment.
For example, if a student is not able to attend exam on a particular date, rather than manage that exception offline, a case could be opened on the platform with automatic workflows to kick off all necessary processes and inform all interested parties. Another example: If a student required an exam in Braille, the system would raise a ticket and launch all necessary processes without the need for human intervention. The need for flexibility and automation became ever clearer during the shutdown.