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System good as tests

Unions urge Welsh schools to adopt pioneering assessment method. Mark Jackson and Karen Thornton report

An enhanced form of teacher assessment,Jwhich has been found to be as reliable a guide to pupils' attainment as national tests, should be considered for use in Wales, teacher unions say.

The new structured system, calledJ"assessing pupil's progress" (APP),Jwas developed by the English Qualifications and Curriculum Authority but can be accessed by schools in Wales.

Research into 91 secondaries' use of APP in KS3 English found their results broadly in line with those of tests. The system alsoJshowed up weaknessesJin pupil learning which had not been identified by the tests, so could be used formatively to raise achievement as well as to measure attainment.

Unions and education officials are becoming increasingly concerned at the lack of progress in developing assessment for learning arrangements in the wake of the decision to abandon compulsory tests at ages 11 and 14 in Wales following the 2004 Daugherty review.

The review said tests should be replaced by "assessment for learning", or formative assessment. It recommended that clusters of primaries and secondaries should moderate results at key stage 2 and that secondary school assessment procedures should be accredited at KS3 to ensure teachers' judgements about pupils' attainment were consistent between and within schools.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said APP was an interesting development.

"We campaigned long and hard for the abolition of tests in favour of an assessment system which recognises the professionalism of teachers in monitoring pupil progress and targeting areas for further work," she said.

"We did advise strongly that the post-Sats regime had to deliver robust, dependable and comparable data. We know a lot of work is going on in this area, but equally members are concerned that we have not quite got there yet."

Geraint Davies, secretary of teachers' union the NASUWT Cymru, said the clustering arrangements proposed in Wales were workload intensive, and "off-the-shelf" tools such as APP should be used in schools instead.

"Whatever new scheme is introduced must not increase teachers' workload,"

he added.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We have not been involved with this pilot but will be watching with interest."

Developed by the QCA to measure progress in English, APP builds assessment into daily classroom activities, rather than relying on work produced under test conditions.

It includes guidelines on how to make structured assessments from work in reading and writing, and how a bank of tasks can be woven into lessons.

They are designed so that teachers can identify which aspects of a pupil's or group's learning needs attention. The material so far prepared includes complete lesson plans.

A report on the KS3 pilot says one objective has been "to assess whether indicators of national progress could be derived during the key stage from teachers' assessments".

Where teachers' judgements differed from test results, assessment tended to be favourable. But this, said the report, may be because teachers can identify attainments that national tests may overlook.

The trial also discovered that many schools were not "overtly" teaching reading skills in the early years of KS3, a finding it described as "striking and unanticipated".

APP is being introduced at KS3 in secondary schools across England and is about to be piloted in 60 primaries. Welsh schools can access the optional materials via the QCA.

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