Sats thrown back over Hadrian's wall

The Scots have joined the Welsh in rejecting national testing at 14 in favour of a system based more on teacher assessment. Diana Hinds reports

As the debate over testing versus assessment gathers momentum, Scotland has decided to abandon all forms of national tests up to 14. In response to last year's consultation on assessment, testing and reporting, the Scottish Executive announced, on November 1, plans to replace tests with a system emphasising formative assessment which relies mainly on the judgment of teachers.

Unlike their English counterparts, Scottish schools have not been encumbered with statutory testing. But national tests for children aged 5 to 14 have been available, and very widely used by teachers to confirm their own pupil assessments.

The Scottish Executive has been looking to move away from testing altogether, and the consultation, which included parents, found much opposition to national testing.

"There have been concerns that some teaching to the test is going on - though to a much lesser extent than in England," says a spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive. "National tests seem to be at odds with the Scottish policy of encouraging flexibility in the curriculum and individual choice."

Instead, there will be a national bank of assessment resources.

Instead of the annual survey attainment levels for 5 to 14-year-olds, drawn from the national tests, there will be a Scottish survey of achievement - a national monitoring system based on sampling, to measure overall improvement. Each child will have a personal learning plan, which will inform annual reporting to parents, and provide a basis for discussing individual progress.

Over the next two years, the new electronic national assessment bank will provide tools for teachers to confirm their professional judgements.

Systems of local moderation will be pursued, and materials developed to enable schools and local authorities to arrive at shared understanding of standards of attainment.

Central to all this reform is Scotland's assessment is for learning programme. Started in 2002, its seeks ways to improve classroom performance by ensuring that pupils get good feedback on their work.

The Scottish programme comprises three inter-linked parts: l assessment for learning, which involves day-to day classroom interactions and feedback, focused on each learner's individual needs; l assessment as learning, where pupils participate in self-assessment and peer assessment; and l assessment of learning, which determines how much, and how well, pupils have learned.

All three must complement and support each other for the system to work.

Assessment for learning means different things to different people, but at its heart is a process which establishes where learners are, where they need to go, and how best to get there. It emphasises formative assessment - tracking pupils' steps in learning - over summative assessment, which merely accords a final grade.

Its principles figure large in the testing reforms under way in Wales.

Following the abolition of KS1 tests in 2002, the Welsh assembly this summer agreed to phase out KS2 and KS3 Sats over the next three years, in favour of teacher assessment. There will be new skills tests in Year 5 Professor Richard Daugherty, of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, believes that assessment for learning is "a vital part" of effective schooling. "But it won't have the force it is capable of unless you release teachers from some of the pressures they are under, such as testing," he says.

Professor Daugherty was commissioned in the summer of 2003 to review assessment arrangements for Wales for 11 and 14-year-olds, and found considerable disparities between teacher assessment and test results. In Welsh language, test scores and teacher assessment tended to converge, but in English, only 65 per cent of pupils were similarly graded by test and teacher.

KS3 in Wales - a source of concern, as in England because of the dip in achievement in Years 7 and 8 - will retain statutory tests until 2006. In the meantime, ACCAC, the Welsh curriculum council, will construct what its chief executive, John Williams, calls "a moderation verification system" to support teacher assessment and attempt to achieve consistency in standards between schools.

Individual schools will be accredited for introducing such arrangements internally and for ensuring consistency within a group of local schools. An accreditation system on this scale is no easy task, and its detail has yet to be worked out. "ACCAC is gathering evidence and exemplars, but nothing has been prepared as yet," says a spokesman for the Welsh Assembly .

But educationists on both sides of the border will be paying close attention. As Professor Daugherty comments: "You can't ask teachers to make these decisions without giving them support - and that includes not only initial training, but ongoing training."

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