Assessment fails CfE test

3rd August 2012 at 01:00
Insufficient time for moderation and planning puts the curriculum's success at risk, says study

A major new report examining how assessment can be improved at the primary-secondary transition stage has highlighted just how fragile progress in this area has been under Curriculum for Excellence.

A University of Glasgow team, led by Professor Louise Hayward, suggests that local authorities are providing "insufficient" time to teachers for planning and moderation meetings "even in a small number of aspects of school work, let alone across the whole curriculum".

And the report, published this week, underlines how crucial the assessment process is to curricular reform: "The time needed to support teachers in moderation and sharing standards may have to be found by prioritising these activities and reducing time spent on other activities."

More sophisticated forms of assessment promised under CfE are in danger of being hamstrung as under-pressure schools and education authorities lapse into old habits, the report finds.

It depicts an education system teetering between implementing fundamental change and relying on crude measures of pupils' progress that are supposed to have been consigned to the past.

The 16 researchers involved identify "much good practice already in place", including: teachers' and pupils' awareness of aspects of assessment for learning; schools' commitment to smooth transitions into secondary school; and "very positive" responses from primary and secondary teachers to working with each other.

But the tone shifts, highlighting the "major threat to the assessment aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence (that) comes from lack of alignment between these aspirations and accountability systems".

And the document ends starkly: "There is a duty on all involved to prevent the worst possible scenario, in which as a society and education system we become obsessed with measurement of progress against increasingly small and narrow targets and draw attention away from the broader aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence."

The researchers underline the importance of making changes to assessment based firmly on evidence, and argue school leaders have "a crucial role" in that regard.

They also warn that old habits die hard, with other studies revealing contradictions in systems that supposedly promoted learners' autonomy but "retained a focus on assessing performance through testing".

There is confusion in Scotland about the definition of standards: "Teachers in all cases expressed uncertainty about how to make levels judgements."

Some continue to set benchmarks using 5-14 levels and some local authorities encourage teachers to grade each task carried out by pupils, finds the report.

One study cited in the report showed that "building teachers' `assessment literacy' to a point where they could independently design and assess portfolio work . took approximately two years of sustained and intensive activity".

The report finds a "strong case" for reporting on pupils' achievement of certain levels only - at P4, P7 and upon entering the senior phase. But to avoid "fragmentation of assessment" it recommends "clear statements of what matters" in relation to the CfE experiences and outcomes.

"Attempts to describe achievement of a level are only likely to be meaningful when accompanied by exemplification," it adds, as long as this does not comprise a list of detailed content.



- Developing teacher professionalism in bringing together curriculum and assessment, including examples of how to use CfE experiences and outcomes;

- Managing learning and progression at transitions, including "purposeful meetings" between primary and secondary teachers that "need to become a permanent part of professional life";

- Building trust in professional judgement, since at points of transition "what matters most is that teachers trust one another's judgements about what pupils have learned";

- Ensuring intelligent accountability in CfE, bearing in mind that "standardised tests do not provide valid information related to Curriculum for Excellence".

Photo credit: Getty

Original headline: Limited progress on assessment under CfE


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