Dr. Ya-Ping (Amy) Hsiao is a Senior Assessment Specialist in the Teacher Development team at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands. In this interview, she shares her professional journey in educational assessment and talks about the value-added of applying for Fellowship Accreditation with AEA-Europe.
Interviewer: Dr Hsiao, your passion in assessment grew from when you were teaching in Taiwan twenty years ago and now you are training teachers in Netherlands to design better assessments. Could you tell us more about your professional journey?
Dr. Amy Hsiao: Yes, I started my career as a primary school teacher way back in Taiwan in 2002. My mentor at the time advised me that if I wanted to become an excellent teacher, I needed to understand assessment, as this would help learners become who they want to be. This is what sparked off my initial interest in education and assessment, so much that during the next years which followed, I undertook three Masters Degrees in Education Entrepreneurship and Management, Theoretical and Applied Linguistics and Educational Science and Technology. I finally completed my PhD in Educational Science and Technology in 2016. Today I consider myself a reflective practitioner in educational assessment and my work consists of training and supporting teachers to design and plan assessments, and I research and support the development of assessment policy at the Tilburg University.
Interviewer: What were the first challenges you observed as a researcher in educational assessment?
Dr. Amy Hsiao: When I began to work at the university in 2014, I was very surprised to observe that the teachers were very often not really aware of the importance of validity in assessment. Teachers were more concerned in completing a table of specifications as requested by the university, but they attributed less importance to the purpose of the assessment itself. It was therefore crucial to make teachers aware that they needed to justify the validity component of the assessment. There was much resistance to this change, but today I am very satisfied that validity, reliability and transparency in assessment are well-established concepts among teachers at the university.
I also wish to add here that I appreciate AEA-Europe’s emphasis on assessment culture as it aligns very well with my own vision of assessment. With the dramatic increase in the diversity of students, there is a need for more flexible assessments. In my view, this implies first addressing the inclusive component of education before addressing the philosophy of assessment. As we think of new assessment designs, we need to reflect about the extent that students are allowed to have more choices when they are being assessed, and how we can increase their agency in learning.
For example, if we consider presentations and writing assignments today, the student is given the essay topic and their higher order thinking skills are what matter the most. I would argue to offer students greater flexibility to choose a topic on which their thinking skills would then be assessed. Ideally, this should be an option both in coursework AND non-traditional exams (such as open book exams). Allowing students more agency and control in what they choose to focus on is extremely important. For instance, in a portfolio assessment, students do have more autonomy to choose what to include as relevant and representative in their portfolio. So, to what extent can we extend this possibility in regular assessment practices?
Interviewer: To what extent do your research observations and recommendations impact the way university practitioners design their assessments?
Dr. Amy Hsiao: In my work, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to use such concrete examples to persuade policymakers and stakeholders to consider evolving practitioner reflections and be more responsive to the development of educational assessment. The biggest resistance emerges from the sheer volume of work required to adapt the assessments to include more options. Another tension arises between consistent measurement versus valid assessments, and I personally argue that it is extremely important to identify what we want to and choose to measure. Without knowing what we are measuring, how useful is it to measure it consistently?
In practice, teachers are rather tied to the consistency issue to ensure reliability, at the expense of reflecting on validity or what exactly is being measured. This can be observed for instance in the assessment of conversational skills, where policy guidelines and tight timelines encourage teachers to create assessments and only focus on ticking every checkbox. This potentially restricts the flexibility of including aspects (such as interactions) that really count and need to be measured in conversational skills.
Interviewer: How do you suggest that such issues of reliability and validity be addressed?
Dr. Amy Hsiao: This challenge is to search for the balance between how best to measure learning, as opposed to what skills needs to be measured to prepare students for the job market needs. As much as teachers (or assessors) agree on the need for ecologically valid and authentic assessments, the pressure of comparable grading requirements still creates tension in the design of assessments. My focus therefore is to continue to examine and research the tensions that exist between reliability and validity.
Interviewer: You applied for Fellowship accreditation with AEA-Europe in March 2022. What led you to take this step and why would you encourage your fellow researchers and practitioners to seek accreditation?
Dr. Amy Hsiao: Indeed, I have been asked why I need to be accredited given my experience so far. I understand that many practitioners applying for fellowship accreditation with AEA-Europe, find it administratively heavy to create a portfolio of their skills to be evaluated. However, the AEA-Europe data booklet for applicants is clearly structured and specifies the criteria to be used to complete the portfolio.
Preparing my application for the accreditation enabled me to reflect on my own path of research, and on the choice of activities I undertook at different points along my career. More importantly, I was able to examine to what extent my initial vision is still aligned with the work I am carrying out today, given all the constraints and conditions that exist in the real assessment world. It was a way for me to recentre and define my next focal point.
I now intend to use my accreditation in the service of raising the quality of educational assessment, for instance to further explore how we can best align instruction and assessment.
I view the AEA-Europe Fellowship accreditation as one means of professionalization in higher education. It adds certainly adds formal and professional recognition of your work, but even more, it allows you to align your internal professional goals to your own vision of how to measure learning in education.