Transforming education: 40 years of progress at Cambridge CEM

As Cambridge CEM turns 40, we look back on the technologies that shaped baseline assessments and what the future holds

CEM assessment, Cambridge

Over the last four decades, technology has played a pivotal role in shaping the evolution of adaptive baseline assessments at Cambridge CEM, supporting the diverse educational needs of students worldwide.

Gone are the days when standardised tests were confined to paper, with flat and static formats that relied heavily on teacher grading. By harnessing digital technology, we’ve not only simplified the administration of standardised baseline assessments for schools, but also enhanced student engagement and accessibility.

This technological leap has enabled us to extend our reach to students across the globe and allowing real-time collection of student performance data in a wide range of educational contexts.

Embracing this change has ushered in a new era of interactive and dynamic assessment questions that adjust based on each student’s responses.

Pioneering adaptive assessments

The development of our adaptive assessments has been made possible through sophisticated psychometric models like Item Response Theory (IRT). These models empower us to create adaptive tests that dynamically select questions appropriate to the challenge level of each test taker.

With the evolution in data analysis and psychometrics, driven by advanced statistical software and algorithms, we now have the capability to efficiently process and analyse extensive volumes of assessment data.

“This technological leap has enabled us to extend our reach to students across the globe.”

Technology has further facilitated the integration of adaptive baseline assessments with personalised learning platforms and school information systems. By gathering data on individual student performance, our adaptive assessments assist schools in creating customised learning pathways. These pathways provide differentiated instructional content and interventions aligned with the strengths and weaknesses of each student, thereby catering to the distinct needs within international education.

Cambridge CEM’s global footprint

Cambridge CEM’s journey began as a small research unit in the North of England collaborating with a handful of schools. Over time, it has evolved, becoming an integral part of Durham University until proudly joining Cambridge University Press & Assessment. This is an organisation whose qualifications, assessments, academic publications and original research spread knowledge, spark curiosity and aid understanding around the world.

Today, Cambridge CEM analyses a staggering 43 million data points annually. This wealth of data underpins the potency of our predictions, which guide teachers in setting ambitious yet attainable goals. These predictions, in turn, support teachers in guiding students towards exam success.

Imagining the future of assessment

Looking ahead, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to play a more prominent role in shaping the future of baseline assessments. However, as we embrace AI’s potential, it’s crucial to remain mindful of ethical considerations.

While AI certainly offers countless opportunities, its integration should be guided by a commitment to international standards, ethics and values.

One area of advancement in AI in assessment is around identification and prediction of misconceptions.

Nick Raikes, director of data science at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, explains, “If we ask teachers to label common misconceptions or mistakes in a sample of answers, we might be able to train a model to recognise these so that it could give useful feedback to students attempting the question in future. Machine learning requires quite a lot of training data, though… ”

“As we embrace AI’s potential, it’s crucial to remain mindful of ethical considerations.”

This development in AI will expand our ability to not only assess knowledge and skills but also to identify misconceptions, identify the stage of misconception, predict when mistakes might happen, develop adaptive learning plans, and provide highly specific, immediate, and effective feedback and reasoning about students’ knowledge states.

A holistic approach

Another area in the evolution of assessment may lie in the creation of holistic assessments, which can offer teachers a comprehensive cognitive, non-cognitive and meta-cognitive profile of their students.

Might AI help teachers to assess knowledge and skills, but also to identify and measure the specific processes that matter most to better performance for all students across the whole ability spectrum?

Imagine AI-led assessment development that aligns with and cross-pollinates the disciplines of psychology, curriculum design, psychometrics, and technology to analyse so much about students. We can look at their motivation, their attitudes towards themselves and others, their beliefs and approaches to learning and the varying psychological factors impacting achievement.

“After forty years of assessment development, Cambridge CEM’s aims remain unchanged.”

Imagine a cost-effective, time-saving pathway towards genuinely personalised learning, that gives primacy to the role of the educator and enhances the human experience of schooling on a global scale.

After forty years of assessment development, Cambridge CEM’s aims remain unchanged – to continue our commitment to harnessing the best technological solutions, and to give teachers the insights that facilitate data-driven decision-making in the ever-evolving landscape of international education.

To find out more about the future of assessments, join our free webinar on Tuesday 10 October with leading assessment specialists: