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Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 28th IAEA Annual Conference

Speech by Mrs Fanny Law Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower at the Opening Ceremony of the 28th IAEA Annual Conference

Dr Chow, Professor Aina, Mr Choi, Mrs Scott, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address this 28th Annual Conference of the International Association for Educational Assessment (IAEA), which pools together the world's distinguished educators and assessment experts. The theme of this year's conference, "Reforming Educational Assessment to meet Changing Needs" cannot be more relevant to Hong Kong today. We are therefore both honoured and pleased to play host to this important event.

2. About two months ago, the Hong Kong Examinations Authority changed its name to the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority to reflect its expanded role to include assessment for learning, in addition to assessment of learning through public examinations. The change reflects a shift in emphasis which underpins the education reform we launched two years ago.

3. Education in the 21st century aims not only to impart knowledge but, more importantly, to develop in our young people the intrinsic motivation to learn and the skills for lifelong learning. In a knowledge economy, people compete on the ability to innovate and adapt to change, to turn threats into opportunities, and to learn, unlearn and relearn as Alvin Toffler defined what a literate person in the 21st century should be.

4. Steeped in the traditional examination culture, schools in Hong Kong are used to competing on the basis of public examination results. The predominance of pencil and paper examinations and the heavy reliance on examination results as the measure of success have skewed teaching and learning, and distorted the aims of education. Whereas the mastery of knowledge can be more easily assessed through pencil and paper examinations, the application of knowledge, higher order thinking and life skills require alternative modes of assessment.

5. Assessment, and how it is carried out, directly affects instructional decisions and educational quality. Yet, it is often woefully neglected in teacher education, and widely misunderstood by the community, including parents and employers.

6. Properly constructed tests, be they high- or low-stake, can have a positive effect on teaching and learning. It is also true that no single test can properly assess everything that we want our children to learn that is included in the curriculum. The unfortunate reality is that what is not examined is often not taught or learned. The tendency is for the examination syllabus to override the curriculum guide as the basis for teaching and learning in school.

7. The challenge for test developers is to construct tests that reflect the curriculum standards and can demonstrate a student's mastery of cognitive skills, not merely bodies of knowledge.

8. The challenge for teachers is to operationalise the curriculum standards, design instructions that promote the cognitive skills, and use the assessment results to feedback and improve on instruction.

9. Building on the good foundation which the Hong Kong Examination and Assessment Authority has established over the years, our vision is to see further development in the following directions:

  diversification of assessment modes to give recognition to multiple student abilities which cannot be fully assessed through pencil and paper tests. More widespread use of teacher assessment is a developing trend;
  more emphasis on assessing students' mastery of cognitive skills than bodies of knowledge in public examinations. This may mean less reliance on standard marking schemes and the award of bonus points for higher order thinking and creative analysis;
  better communication between curriculum developers and test administrators, item setters, moderators and markers over curriculum standards, in terms of both content and cognitive demands;
  promotion of assessment literacy among teachers, parents, policymakers and the public so as to change their perception and application of educational assessment;
  more widespread use of formative assessments in schools, coupled with action research, to inform instructional practices;
  establishment of alternative accountability measures for school effectiveness to reduce the reliance on public examination results. In this connection, we are developing value-added indicators for the academic and affective domains to be used for school self-evaluation.

10. Education is high on the policy agenda of the Hong Kong Special Administration Government. We have embarked on a wide-ranging reform agenda, at the heart of which is the curriculum reform which, to be effective, must be supported by corresponding changes to assessment practices in order to make a difference to learning and teaching in school.

11. Today's conference is timely and relevant to our endeavours and I look to distinguished experts present at this conference for inspirations, ideas and advice. I wish you all a rewarding and successful conference. For those of you who have travelled from afar, I hope you will find time during the week to explore Hong Kong, and see for yourselves the vibrance and splendour of this city.

12. Thank you.

Last revision date: 02 September 2002
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