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Masterclass - e-assessment - All switched on

Technology allows teachers to record, assess and react to their pupils' progress quickly and simply

Technology allows teachers to record, assess and react to their pupils' progress quickly and simply

How do you assess progress in your school? Are you using technology to help you? E-assessment, a main element of the Government's Harnessing Technology strategy, uses computer software to record and analyse pupil progress. Integrating ICT into teaching and assessment is beneficial in several ways. It makes teaching and learning more personalised as learners move at their own pace through exercises, and it can include elements of self-assessment with instant feedback available.

By using one of the many software packages on offer, you can track statistics on pupil progress. The data can help you identify trends or anomalies that might have been missed in the past. It's quicker than doing the individual calculations yourself.

Management Information Systems (MIS) and pupil tracking: users' guidance, a 2008 publication from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, suggests using software is a good way to identify and celebrate success, and to quickly pinpoint those pupils who need more support.

If you have the necessary equipment, you could check understanding of a topic halfway through a lesson by using handheld devices to run a quiz, for example. The results are instantly available, so if it's not working you can change strategy mid-lesson.

Another major element of the Harnessing Technology strategy is the introduction of e-portfolios (or e-profiles) for every pupil in England. E-portfolios are online spaces where staff and pupils can store examples of work, send and receive messages, and collaborate with other schools and pupils. Depending on how e-portfolios are set up, they can include the facility for teachers to assess work that is stored online and to record qualitative and quantitative feedback, again offering a way to store data and information in a central place.

Establishing e-assessment in your school is not as simple as buying the software, however. The context in which it is carried out is a major factor in its success. Research by the Joint Information Systems Committee in 2006 found several crucial factors that can help or hinder the implementation of e-assessment in schools. High-level support from senior management and staff training in use of the software are crucial.

A case study recently published by the National Foundation for Educational Research into the use of its i-nfer assessment software found it takes time to embed a new approach and that it helps to have one person identified as a "champion" for the initiative. He or she can act as a point of contact and ensure that colleagues are involved in a way that suits them.

E-assessment software is available for all key stages and for most subjects, although prices vary enormously. Some packages are even available for free. The key stage 3 ICT assessment tasks can be downloaded from the National Assessment Agency website, for instance. also offers free online training and assessment for key skills learners aged 14-19.

On you can also find a link to eyeProfile. This software, provided free by the DCSF, is an online version of the EYFS profile, which allows you to assess progress and track cohorts for two years. Other manufacturers include Goal online, Chalkface, GL Assessment and i-nfer. Between them they offer a huge variety of tests and packages.

If you have a management information system, you might find it can accommodate extra assessment modules. For example, if your school is already using the Capita Schools Information Management System (SIMS) packages, you can buy a SIMS Assessment Manager add-on.

Whatever your approach, there are signs that e-assessment is already evolving. Soon (if not already) it will leave us wondering how we did without it.

Catherine Allan is specialist researcher in administration and management at The Key, an independent service that supports school leaders Next week: Working with volunteers.

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