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The formative. . . and the summative

Anything that can stem the rapidly rising tide of paperwork is welcome, Eric Melvin, headteacher at Currie Community High, said. The school is one of the centres for the Pass-IT pilot studies.

"Another major benefit is that the computer assessment we have been looking at can combine formative and summative assessment - and we all know how powerful formative assessment can be, as learners engage with their own learning."

But Scotland's record in change management was not good, Mr Melvin cautioned, and there were challenges in moving to a national system of e-assessment.

A major concern was that a two-speed implementation would be almost inevitable, with schools that already possess good hardware and ICT expertise opening up an even bigger gap on those that are currently lagging.

Mr Melvin's perspective as an associate inspector with HMI led him to describe ICT in Scotland's schools as "having examples of excellent practice, but in small pockets in some schools. A whole-school approach is not typical."

The biggest drawback to progress with ICT in general and online assessment in particular was that teachers did not have confidence in the systems they were using. "Some authorities are tied into contracts for network support that take very little account of education's needs."

Maths and parts of the sciences are more amenable to computer assessment than subjects such as English, where assessment is largely based on analysis of written responses. The Pass-IT pilot studies have, however, made sufficient progress in computer assessment of text to convince many that it can be done.

Harry Grant, SQA principal assessor for Standard grade and Intermediate English, was highly sceptical at first. Mr Melvin said. "In close reading you assess a student's understanding, analysis and evaluation. The first of these lends itself to a tight answer key. But the other two, which account for 60 per cent of the marks, don't.

"Nevertheless the work we have done in Pass-IT has convinced me of the potential of e-assessment at Intermediate 1 English - and maybe also at Higher."

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