How ‘Invisible Assessment’ is the Future of Testing

“The exciting part is where we’re headed,” declares Kimberly O’Malley with a trademark accent that’s both endearing and direct. It’s as if she’s still in a Texas classroom with her elementary and middle school students.

Kimberly is talking about the future of testing, something she and her research colleagues describe as “invisible assessments.” It’s the idea that traditional, end-of-year testing is replaced with real-time assessments that are baked in and “invisible” to the learning process as it happens.

“We’re aiming for new ways of assessment and testing that collect information during learning about where students are, how they’re performing, and how they’re developing,” Kimberly says. “By the time we’ve harnessed all this information about students on the fly, any data that might have been generated with traditional testing would be so inferior.”

A Shift in Thinking About Assessments

Kimberly leads much of Pearson’s research and development efforts. She has a PhD in assessments.

“Other industries are using sophisticated behavioral technology to perfect this kind of integrated approach,” Kimberly explains. “When I go to the grocery, my receipt has a coupon for cat food. Though I didn’t happen to buy any cat food that day—I do have cats—and the grocery understands my buying habits so well that they’ve matched their services with my current and future needs.”

NextGen Assessments Pull

“These industries are doing a phenomenal job using data technology to understand people,” Kimberly says. “Educators are now using this digital revolution to push our understanding of learning science—to create environments where students are always learning.”

The approach calls for a shift in thinking about assessments. “Tests in the past were used at the end of the year to see if students actually learned the curriculum,” Kimberly says. “Now, we’re shifting from ‘did they learn it?’ to ‘how are they learning it?’

It’s integrated assessment that’s more consistent during the learning year, and it’s more granular in its approach. And, Kimberly says, the future of testing is closer than many realize.

“The Data We Already Have”

“The first step is a better understanding of the data we already have,” Kimberly says. “There’s so much information that’s already part of the process—classroom grades, homework assessments, tests, quizzes—we just don’t often pull all the information together in order to use it.”

“I’m glad the President is calling out assessments,” Kimberly says of President Obama’s recent comments about what he describes as “too much testing.”

“Next generation assessments will give us much better insight about our learners while they’re learning,” Kimberly says. “Because the President is right: ‘Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble.'”