New tests still to prove their worth

Scotland's quiet revolution in testing, recording and reporting, delivered through the Assessment is for Learning (AifL) programme, is slowly making a difference, according to research findings released today (Friday).

The study found that schools involved have seen improvements in teaching styles, in attainment and in pupils' self-esteem.

But many teachers complain they do not have the time to carry out all the tasks associated with "bottom-up" action research and only half of the initial pilot schools found the time to complete the researchers'

questionnaire. One in six schools struck problems and failed to overcome them. Lack of supply cover stymied some.

Researchers report that secondary teachers are more likely to resist new developments and changes to their classroom practice. Schools also find it difficult to cope with staff changes and the need to update teachers on new ways of assessing pupils.

The study highlights confusion among teachers over the apparent differences between formative assessment (for more immediate classroom learning) and summative assessment (end tests) - and how they interact.

Almost all headteachers (98 per cent) believe that the new online national assessment bank of tests has brought extra work and cost, and just over half say there are technical problems. A clear majority say it is worse than the previous national testing system.

The AifL programme, now in its fourth year, is described by a research team from the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University as "one of the most ambitious developments in Scottish education in the past 25 years, involving all sectors across all 32 local authorities".

They say that the 10 projects within the programme are just a beginning, "albeit a positive one", and ministers must do more to secure its long-term future.

The Scottish Executive-commissioned study reports favourably on progress with formative assessment in classrooms. It is the largest aspect of the programme, costing pound;2.5 million a year, and the most successful, although most teachers and heads say it is too early to judge the overall impact.

The hardest aspect for ministers to swallow will be the reluctance of schools and local authorities to push personal learning plans (PLPs), now rebranded as personal learning planing. Teachers are reported as being unsure about the purpose and content.

Teachers who thought there were benefits to pupils from the assessment package say that they became more active learners, more confident and sure of themselves, and more positive. Pupils were less strong on setting their own targets and checking their mates' work in peer assessment. One in four teachers had evidence of improved attainment, but this showed little change from the previous survey in 2003.

The research team points out that the AifL programme is a significant break from previous testing regimes and is targeted at day-to-day practice in schools. "It aimed to change both the culture in schools and the practice in classrooms with regard to assessment, a complex concept that is often not well understood," it says.

Much of the strategy was based on the "Black Box" materials in England by Paul Black and Dylan William, published in 2001.

Full details 4; Leader 21

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