CHILDREN AND Education Minister Sam Galbraith launched a major consultative exercise on Wednesday in an attempt to find a consensus on how assessment can be improved in pre-school, primary and early secondary years. The consultation will run to the end of March and follows an HMI review ordered by the previous minister last November.
Mr Galbraith said: "There has been growing concern in recent years that the current arrangements for assessment do not provide the quality and consistency of information that is required. If assessment information is to be sufficiently robust and accurate, then we need to consider how best to improve these arrangements." But the Minister insisted he had no views at this stage on the various options set out by HMI.
The inspectors want to devise a system which will not just support learning and provide feedback to teachers on how well their pupils are doing, but one reliable enough to monitor the performance of schools as a whole.
Their evaluation shows that pre-school staff know the pupils' strengths and weaknesses well. But there is a question mark over the consistency and quality of the way information is shared with both parents and primary schools.
In primaries, HMI found "significant progress" in assessing maths and reading, but less in writing. Few schools had effective assessment in environmental studies, the expressive arts or RE. Assessment was judged to be "good or better" in just over half of primaries inspected, but remains a weakness in over 70 per cent of the schools.
The review also expresses concern that primary teachers tend to use national tests to discover what stage pupils are at, rather than to confirm their judgment at the point where pupils are ready to move on to the next 5-14 level.
The transfer of information from primary to secondary is still contentious. Primaries insist that they supply information about pupil progress to secondaries which often ignore it. Secondaries complain about the unreliability and inconsistency of the information (see page one). The result, HMI says, is poor planning of lessons in early secondary.
In S1S2, the inspectors found little use of the 5-14 guidelines and assessment outside English and maths departments. Only 36 per cent of the 60,000 pupils in S1S2 sat reading tests in 1997-98, 33 per cent sat maths tests and 28 per cent sat writing tests. This is half of what might be expected if testing was fully implemented. But HMI does not know how many pupils would have been ready to be tested.
The inspectors also highlight major weaknesses in the data from schools that make it impossible to monitor 5-14 attainment properly across the country. Schools were asked to supply their results in June 1998 and 1999 and there was a "substantial gap" between pupils' current and expected levels of attainment.
The overall HMI conclusion is that "progress has been made but much remains to be done."
The review pledges that teachers' judgments about their pupils' performance will continue to be given high priority but their "accuracy and focus" must be improved, through both staff development and changes in the assessment regime itself.
Leader, page 14