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England in the lead on e-testing

Ministers south of the border have stolen a march on their Scottish colleagues by approving a start to e-testing within the next five years.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has been working up plans to develop e-learning and e-assessment initiatives, but to date they remain plans.

The Government in England has now endorsed a revolution in examinations technology that will allow some GCSE exams to be taken on computers by 2010. Details will be unveiled next month.

It is expected that the strategy, drawn up by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority south of the border, will give pupils the choice of sitting at least one or two papers, or modules, of each GCSE subject in front of a computer screen - or of sitting them in the traditional way.

E-candidates would be supervised and would not have access to the internet during exams.

The QCA is piloting an on-screen test in ICT that is likely to be offered to 600,000 pupils by 2005.

In Scotland, the SQA has set up a computer-assisted assessment team whose first task was to draw up a strategy that would focus initially on internal rather than external assessment. But while a considerable amount of work has been done by the SQA on item banking and online assessment instruments, it is largely at the developmental stage.

One of the furthest advances is in online assessment for Intermediate 1 computing, where there are plans to produce an online examination. Some material has already been released to allow staff and pupils to practise.

A pilot project is also under way in Dumfries and Galloway on online assessment for 5-14 numeracy. Five primaries and a secondary are involved, although it is intended to help formative assessment in teaching.

One of the major Scottish initiatives is the PASS-IT programme, the Project on Assessment in Scotland using Information Technology. This has already worked with seven schools, three colleges and more than 400 candidates to pilot online assessments. A second phase is under way, running until October, to develop online assessment for Access 2 and Intermediate 2 courses in maths, Higher French, Higher music and Intermediate 1 English.

PASS-IT aims to apply its approach to "a wide range of activities, from situations where candidates word-process short answer responses or essays and submit these to markers by e-mail, to those where candidates take computer-delivered tests online and their responses are marked through automated marking systems."

The SQA is also developing diplomas in e-learning and e-assessment, with the latter trailed as the first national qualification of its kind in the world.

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