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Sustainable Assessments: Bridging Education and Development Goals

April 24, 2024

Sustainable Assessments: Bridging Education and Development Goals


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The dialogue around sustainable development, the sustainable use of AI, and environmental friendliness is present in all sectors, raising for us the question of how we, as members of the educational assessment community, connect with the topic of sustainability. 

The first time I heard the phrase sustainable development was in 2015, when the United Nations launched its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the fourth goal (SDG 4) dedicated to the provision of quality education and promoting lifelong learning for all (UNESCO, 2017). Initially, this concept seemed abstract to me, but later on, the growing prominence of Environmental Social Governance specialist roles in businesses and the focus on events like 2024 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP29) started pushing global awareness and the regulatory landscape for businesses.

As awareness and regulations for businesses increased, I explored various perspectives and identified three key areas in which sustainability and assessment intersect: sustainable assessment focused on future learning needs, the assessment of sustainability itself, and the push towards digitalization to reduce operational waste, with the first being my main interest. Then I started questioning: how should we align our work in educational assessment with these evolving sustainability discussions and initiatives these days?

This article provides a perspective on sustainability and explores how we, as educational assessors, can contribute. It includes a matrix of the assessment cycle and sustainable thinking, offers sustainable, and provides insights into future developments.

Sustainable Production and Development in the Assessment Cycle

Let's explore the educational assessment cycle within the framework of sustainable production and development, examining how an Environmental Social Governance auditor would check assessment practices at each stage. Below, each phase of the assessment cycle is analyzed based on ESG criteria, focusing on environmental impact, social equity, and governance:

Sustainable Assessment Cycle Framework

Assessment Cycle Stages





Optimize files to minimize data transfer & host platforms on green servers.

Include diverse perspectives & author culturally sensitive content.

Conduct strict reviews during pilot testing for content accuracy & bias prevention.


Optimize data processing in student registration systems to conserve energy.

Design a user-friendly registration interface for users with varying levels of digital literacy & offer multilingual and accessibility support. 

Ensure all registrant data is encrypted & securely stored, compliant with global standards like GDPR.


Use digital solutions in test administration & schedule times to reduce the carbon footprint of hosting digital platforms.

Accommodate administration across different time zones & support the special-needs users with screen reader compatibility & alternative text formats.

Enforce strict access controls & monitoring systems to prevent cheating & ensure a fair testing process.


Employ automated marking systems with high efficiency & low energy use.

Regularly audit & adjust automated marking functions to prevent systemic biases & ensure equity in marking for every student response.

Set up clear guidelines & oversight mechanisms for human supervision of automated marking to maintain accountability.


Consider optimizing algorithms and data processing routines on data analytics platforms.

Analyze data to identify disparities in learning outcomes across different student groups and adjust testing protocols to address any gaps.

Maintain high standards of data security and ensure that all data analysis procedures are transparent and verifiable.


Adopt digital reporting systems that dynamically scale based on demand to minimize energy consumption.

Design reports with visuals that are accessible and understandable to all stakeholders, including non-technical users.

Maintain transparency in reporting methodologies and results, allowing for independent verification.

Note: Whenever "digitalization" or "digital solutions" are mentioned in the table, they refer to the use of cloud-based technologies unless specified otherwise. Further details are provided in the "Digital Infrastructure Innovations" section later on.

With such a matrix in hand, assessment organizations may begin to think about and develop strategies that focus on sustainable design in assessments, promoting environmental impact awareness, enhancing social inclusiveness, and upholding strict governance standards.

Foundations of Sustainable Assessment Practices

The definition of sustainable development, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, translates into a holistic concept of: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ If we take this definition of sustainable development and apply it into the assessment context, sustainable assessment could be perceived as an assessment ‘that meets the needs of the present and [also] prepares students to meet their own future learning needs’ (Boud 2000, 151).

Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainable Assessment

The field of sustainable assessment is better understood through comparative analysis. This can guide strategies for transitioning from traditional digital assessment practices to sustainable assessment practices that employ suitable instruments. Below is a matrix that details comparative features for clearer understanding, accompanied by a table that showcases the design thinking behind traditional situation-based problems alongside assessments with sustainable thinking applied, in both math and literature:

Comparative Matrix of Sustainable vs. Traditional Assessment Practices

Sustainable Digital Assessment Practices

Sustainable Digital Assessment Practices

Benefits of Sustainable Practices

Limitations of Non-Sustainable Practices

Project-Based Learning (PBL) Platforms

Traditional Online Exams

Authentic assessment within PBL platforms prepares students for the modern workplace by offering challenges that mimic real-life tasks, increasing student engagement & collaboration in a digital environment.

Traditional online exam platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle often limit interaction & primarily assess memorization and individual task completion, rather than critical thinking & practical skills.

Digital E-Portfolios

Static Online Test Submissions

Digital e-portfolios provide educators with holistic insights into a student's progress by allowing students to showcase a broad range of skills over time, supporting continuous learning & personal development.

Static online tests, typically composed of multiple-choice or matching questions, offer feedback only at specific moments, failing to track growth & development over an extended period.

Online Peer Assessments

Online Single-Marker Assessments

Online peer assessments broaden the assessment scope by incorporating students' own experiences, knowledge, & cultural backgrounds into the assessment of each other's work, thereby facilitating interactive & real-time feedback.

Online assessments with a single marker can overload markers/instructors, restricting personalized feedback & reducing the diversity of learning perspectives & peer engagement.

Virtual Service- Learning

Purely Academic Online Course Assignments.

Virtual service-learning boosts social responsibility & real-world skills by linking academic theory to practical applications in a virtual environment, where students might be tasked to solve community-focused problems.

Assignments in purely academic courses often lack practical application, which can restrict students' ability to use theoretical knowledge in real-world situations.

Reflective Journals in Learning Management Systems

One-off Online Quizzes

Reflective journals encourage students to engage deeply with the material and reflect on their learning journey through continuous self-assessment and critical thinking,

One-off online quizzes offer limited insights into learning, do not stimulate further learning & reflection, & fail to promote the development of higher-order thinking skills.

Digital Performance Assessments

Conventional Online Multiple-Choice Tests

Digital performance assessments utilize interactive formats within simulated environments to measure students' capabilities with high precision in applying practical knowledge.

Traditional multiple-choice tests often fail to measure comprehensive understanding or practical skills, typically encouraging superficial learning.

Non-Sustainable and Modified Sustainable Assessments: Math and Literature Examples



Modified sustainable

Subject/ Task name

Mathematics: Gasoline Consumption Analysis


Standard Gasoline Calculation

Gasoline Efficiency Improvement


The household's car travels 1,000 miles per month with a fuel efficiency of 25 miles per gallon.

Using the same scenario.


Calculate the household's total gasoline usage in gallons.

Determine the potential gasoline savings if the household trades their car in for another which is 25% more efficient.

Subject/ Task name

Literature: Environmental Themes in Literature


Traditional Literary Analysis

Critical Environmental Literary Analysis


Analyze the nature theme in "The Waste Land" poem by Thomas Stearns Eliot, focusing on poetic techniques used to convey the theme.

Using the same scenario.


Identify and list the use of metaphors and imagery in the poem that depict nature.

Analyze Thomas Stearns Eliot's critique of human detachment from nature and its relevance to today's environmental issues.

The concept of sustainable design thinking in authoring involves integrating environmental context into various topics without necessarily focusing the content on environmental themes. This approach may require different types of work from the student; for instance, while non-sustainable examples are simpler and more straightforward, sustainably designed questions might appear inherently more complex. As an alternative, educators could use comparative texts on nature - one older and one newer, addressing modern environmental concerns. Although this method centers on environmental topics, applying it consistently across all content domains may prove challenging.

Future Directions for Sustainable Educational Assessments

Sustainable educational assessment is becoming a widespread consideration of decision-makers in the wave of digitization to meet challenges not only of our current realities but also of the future. While sustainability is already a critical concern in industries such as oil and gas, which deal directly with energy consumption and environmental impacts, the field of educational assessment will continue recognizing the importance of fostering sustainable practices due to educational assessment’s nature to drive a change in educational systems.

This shift from mere digitalization to sustainable digitalization in assessment aims to provide a futuristic view of our strengths in the digital sector of educational assessment by promoting a sustainability mindset. This approach integrates sustainability concepts across various subject domains, enriching assessments with contextualized real-life situations that focus on sustainable thinking, regardless of the subject domain. To this end, the primary advancements in digital educational assessments within sustainable societies can be categorized into two main groups:

Technological Innovations

This category features advancements in new technologies designed to improve the functionality, accessibility, and efficiency of digital assessments, making them responsive to the requirements of a contemporary, sustainable assessment cycle. Recently, technological innovations in the educational assessment domain have been driven primarily by the increased use of AI systems and the development of modern digital infrastructure, as detailed below:

Increased AI Integration in Assessments: AI systems will be widely used in the educational assessment context to employ advanced natural language processing techniques for assessing both the content and creative aspects of student responses. Such AI systems will also employ predictive analytics to prognose students' learning needs, providing personalized guidance and support, thus promoting equal quality educational access. Additionally, AI will assist assessment design teams in authoring tailored assessments and will include functions to self-correct biases in items. Ultimately, emotion recognition technology could level up these AI systems by adjusting assessments in real-time to reduce student stress, nurturing a supportive assessment environment for candidates.

Adoption of Digital Infrastructure: One of the key digital reforms in the field of educational assessment is the increased use of cloud technology, which would expand the accessibility and scalability of assessment platforms at assessment organizations while also contributing to the decrease of the carbon footprint associated with traditional server infrastructures. Additionally, administering assessments through mobile devices for low-stake assessments allows for learning anytime, anywhere, minimizing the need for physical infrastructure and promoting a flexible learning environment adaptable to various lifestyles and conditions. As a final point, employing blockchain technology would support systemic management and verification of educational assessment credentials throughout the assessment cycle and beyond, including certifications and any decisions made based on any kind of assessment data contributing to the digital tracking and recognition of lifelong learning.

Sustainability and Accessibility Upgrades

Inclusivity can be viewed holistically as a prerequisite for sustainability, aligning with broader social and environmental goals. So, building on the principles of inclusivity and considering the future needs of a sustainable society, here are some strategies that exemplify how sustainability and accessibility can be integrated into digital assessment cycles:

Sustainability Metrics in Assessment Design: Integrating matrix criteria such as environmental impact, resource efficiency, and social responsibility taken from the table above into the assessment design may encourage students to prioritize these issues from a young age, fostering an attitude that incorporates sustainability practices into their lives consistently.

Digital Accessibility and Inclusivity: Students transitioning to digital assessments should feel assured that their access to assessments is not limited in any way by accessibility concerns, and they should feel included in the established testing environment. This commitment by the assessment organization to educational equity promotes the culture that all students, including those with special needs, have equal opportunities to learn and be assessed.

Concluding Thoughts: Towards a Sustainable Assessment Paradigm

In conclusion, integrating sustainability into educational assessments represents a new and potentially underdeveloped area in assessment organizations' readiness to adapt to our traditional and static assessment processes within the digital landscape. By bridging this gap of unfamiliarity through sustainable design thinking in the assessment cycle, using technology, we open the door to new possibilities for translating real-life situations into the virtual testing environment, and nurturing sustainable thinking for generations to come. We hope that the practical matrices, comparative analysis, and examples provided in this article will serve as an initial step in considering sustainable assessments as achievable with minor adjustments in the approaches employed in the assessment cycle. Through such contributions from the assessment community, we may feel that we have also contributed to the cause of sustainability in our professional journey.

About the Author

Vali Huseyn is an educational assessment specialist, recognized for his expertise in enhancing various aspects of the assessment cycle. His capability to advise on the development of assessment delivery models, administration of different levels of assessments, innovation within data analytics, and creation of swift, secure reporting techniques sets him apart in the field. His work, enhanced by collaborations with leading assessment technology firms and certification bodies, has greatly advanced his community's assessment practices. At The State Examination Centre of Azerbaijan, Vali significantly contributed to the transformations of local assessments and led key regional projects, such as reviews of CEFR-aligned language assessments, PISA-supported assessment literacy trainings, and the institutional audit project, all aimed at enhancing the assessment culture across the country and Post-Soviet region. As a volunteer facilitator, Vali also runs sessions for young people on environmental protection and the use of sustainable thinking in European programs such as Erasmus Plus.

Discover pioneering practices in modernizing assessments and gain insights into the future of educational assessments by connecting with Vali on LinkedIn.

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