A changed culture on testing

9th December 2005 at 00:00
It is easy to forget that the Assessment is for Learning programme was conceived more than four years ago following a hiatus about what should replace the regime of 5-14 tests. What followed was a completely different form of assessment, and for that the Scottish Executive deserves high commendation. Its testing solutions baffled commentators at the time: was it national testing or not?

We have moved away from the 1990s model of testing, which was an unsuccessful political compromise between formative and summative assessment in a Conservative era, towards assessment that can make a real difference to learning in class. The package, of course, includes new forms of national or summative testing to ensure standards across the country and public accountability. But the kernel remains, as it says on the tin, that "assessment is for learning".

The real story, as research from Strathclyde University emphasises (pages one and four), is of cultural change in the classroom, driven by teachers who see the benefits in amending their daily teaching styles. There are "top-down" dimensions, but it remains largely a "bottom-up" approach to incremental change which all schools will have to embrace over the next few years.

Four years on, we can now see that the trust invested in teachers to make a difference to the way they teach has paid dividends. Encouragingly, many teachers can see the difference formative assessment techniques based on research can make, and researchers have now confirmed quantifiable gains in pupils' confidence. They are becoming better learners in those schools which have been successful in introducing reform. The danger is that such a complex, fragmented and essentially radical programme could fall apart through lack of direction, resources and impetus at local and national levels.

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