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Guidelines to measuring outcomes

Ian Smith is founder of Learning Unlimited

The team working on the experiences and outcomes for A Curriculum for Excellence is to be congratulated. It has not only gone public on an early draft of some sample outcomes (for Planet Earth - a science topic) but has shared the guidelines it has been using to write them.

This provides an opportunity for dialogue and debate within the profession.

It also means that teachers working to develop and share learning intentions and success criteria with pupils can begin to see how this activity will articulate with learning outcomes developed nationally.

There's much to be admired. The team doesn't sidestep one main purpose of such outcomes, which is to set out clear expectations of what children and young people should learn and at what level.

It wants to uncover what matters and clear away the clutter "to promote flexibility and space so that teachers can use their professional judgment creatively to meet children's needs". I like the emphasis on motivation.

The team wants to provide writers with "latitude to capture the enjoyment, excitement and particular ways of working of your curriculum area".

Out-comes should be "lively and engaging".

This has been done by doing away with "attainment targets" and "examples of learning activities" in the 5-14 documents and using combined statements to describe "experiences and outcomes". The language of these is more uplifting than 5-14.

For example, for "identify the sun, moon and stars" and "link the pattern of day and night to the position of the sun" at level A (5-14), read "I have experienced the wonder of looking at the vastness of the sky, and can recognise the sun, moon and stars and link them to the patterns of everyday life" at level 1 (ACfE). It is to be applauded, despite the fact the language is designed for teachers rather than five-year-olds.

The other change is that experiences and outcomes have become single statements. I like this, but there are dangers. One is that teachers used to years of prescription may think that specific methodologies must be used to achieve particular outcomes.

This leads me to the other purpose of learning outcomes written at national level. The outcomes will be used as the basis for national standards of achievement. National certification will be based on them at level 4 and above. Teachers, nurseries and schools will be judged on them at all levels.

The writers have to think like assessors; to ask the question how will teachers, inspectors, examiners know that pupils have reached the required standards? Yet the importance of experiences and outcomes is given less importance in the guidelines.

I like the emphasis in the experience statements on pupils showing what they know and demonstrating their understandings. It's suggested that outcomes should not be "assessment criteria" but "evidence that can be gathered to assess progress". I'm not sure of the difference.

The statements warn that level 4 outcomes will need to be more specific than those at earlier levels and that "the involvement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority in writing fourth level experiences will be essential" -and extremely interesting, I suspect. It's the crucial issue.

How do we make what is important in ACfE measurable? Exams won't do it.

The experiences and outcomes must be measurable. But they must give teachers what the writers were given, the latitude to capture enjoyment and excitement -to be lively and engaging. Ultimately, the real curriculum is not what's written on paper: it's what goes on between teachers and pupils in a classroom.

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