This month, pupils from more than 400 schools are taking an online test to determine their ICT capability. They will have used practice material to familiarise themselves with the test process. There are two 50-minute test sessions and the system records each pupil's actions throughout the test.
These are then used to judge whether to award a level.
The key stage 3 test is designed to assess their capability, as described by the programme of study in the national curriculum. ICT capability is much broader than a set of technical competencies in software applications, although these are important. It also involves the appropriate selection, use and evaluation of ICT. In essence, a capable pupil must know what ICT is available to them, when to use it and why it is appropriate for the task.
The test software presents a problem and the tools with which to solve it.
As an assessment tool it goes well beyond traditional paper-and-pencil tests and offers the potential for adaptive processes and a marking system that learns from pupils' own creativity.
The possible statutory nature of this test was signalled in a White Paper, 14-19 Education and Skills, published in March, which also suggests that, from 2008, test results will be published. These plans impact on pupils entering Year 7 in September, who will become the focus for preparation and planning to give them the best opportunity to demonstrate their ICT capability. This group is also likely to be facing the introduction of post-14 courses which include the assessment of "functional ICT", yet to be defined by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
There are two requirements for preparing pupils for a changing environment: technical preparation and good teaching. The first is a key concern, but schools can register with RM, the company developing the test, to gain access to software that conducts a "health check" on the school network. Details on how to do this are on the QCA website and the process is being supported by Becta.
Schools should perhaps do this first, to allow time to enhance their systems, if necessary. Early identification of any issues also allows for this to be linked to the school ICT development plan. However, effective teaching is also crucial if we are to give young people the opportunity to demonstrate their achievements in the test environment.
Through the KS3 strategy, training has been offered on preparing Year 9 pupils for assessment, including the test. This training looked at a number of key areas, the first of which was accurate teacher assessment. The test requires that teachers assess pupils prior to entering them for a test and it is this level that determines the test entry point. It is therefore important that the initial judgement is correct.
This is not new. Schools are already required to submit teacher assessment levels for all pupils at the end of KS3, and getting accurate judgements has been one of the main focuses of our work with schools over the past three years. Moderation within and between schools, using QCA exemplification, has enabled excellent debate about standards reached, and about how to improve achievement through good teaching. This needs to continue. and all schools should participate, especially those that might make judgements without having the evidence. Incorrect judgements could reduce pupils' potential to achieve the correct level in a test.
The second focus of the training offered to schools was the teaching of problem-solving techniques. Again, this is not new. All of the published sample teaching units use this approach, but the test requires a much quicker appraisal of the problem and its possible solution. Indeed, all creative use of ICT is based on the evaluation of the problem, a consideration of the solution and the tools available, and the implementation, testing and refinement of that solution. This process is at the heart of all good coursework in ICT, and training sessions offered over the past three years have looked at progression in this area. Good teaching must ensure that pupils know how and when to use an ICT tool, with the techniques applied effectively for a solution - not just for the sake of it.
The test uses a process similar to that a teacher would use to assess pupils. Teachers use a variety of evidence to make their decisions, and then use this evidence to make a judgement about the level achieved, using the national curriculum level descriptions. This process remains at the heart of good teaching and will enable both accurate reporting of pupils'
achievement and their entry into the test at the appropriate level. Pupils can then create their own solutions and show what they are capable of.
Clare Johnson is ICT strand director for the Secondary Strategy