Students at the centre: promoting effective evaluation and assessment in Northern Ireland

by Claire Shewbridge
Analyst, Early Childhood and Schools Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

“Students do not want to be ‘passive objects’ of evaluation and assessment, they want to be actively involved”. When we heard the representative of the European School Student Unions say this at a conference in April, we smiled. We had just returned from eight days in Northern Ireland where we’d been really impressed with how much students knew about their assessment. Of course, we only got the chance to visit a few schools, but although each school had a distinct approach to assessment, they all shared a commitment to getting the students involved.

As explored in a new OECD report on evaluation and assessment policies in Northern Ireland, current policy, together with the curriculum, promotes the engagement of students in their own evaluation by encouraging them to talk about, review and make improvements to their work, as well as to ask questions and to respond to others’ points of view. This allows students to develop ‘higher order skills’ such as meta-cognitive awareness: the ability to reflect and analyse the learning experience itself. Engagement is also important for school inspectors, who check to what extent schools are using a broad range of assessment policies and engaging students in self- and peer-assessment.

But in addition to evaluating themselves, students want to be involved in the evaluation of their teachers and schools. In Northern Ireland, official policy underlines the importance of school self-evaluation for improving the learning experience for students, and evidence from school inspections indicates that self-evaluation activities are highly developed in many schools. This is backed up by new PISA 2012 results, which indicate that 65% of 15-year-olds in Northern Ireland are in schools that give students an opportunity to provide written feedback on teachers, lessons and resources, compared with an OECD average of 61%. 

The evaluation of schools in Northern Ireland can play a crucial role in addressing the existing equity challenges by monitoring whether effective equitable and quality education is being provided. This is a key factor in increasing the social mobility of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and addressing economic and social challenges. In this way, evaluation promotes improvement for ALL students.

Going forward, Northern Ireland will need to build public awareness and further develop professionalism in schools, ensuring that policies are reviewed and refined where necessary. But throughout all of this, the focus of evaluation should always be kept on the improvement of student learning outcomes, and on involving students. With this, evaluation and assessment become more effective for schools and governments, and more relevant for students.

Access OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education for Northern Ireland, United Kingdom and the other participating countries, along with the final project report, ‘Synergies for Better Learning: an International Perspective on Evaluation and Assessment’ on the OECD website Reviews on Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes

Synergies for better learning 
PISA 2012 Results: What Makes Schools Successful? Resources, Policies and Practices, Volume IV
Related blog post Evaluation and assessment is for everyone

Photo credit: student assessment @ Shutterstock

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