Assessment in its rightful place

5th September 2008 at 01:00

As the Scottish Government welcomes consultation on the next generation of National Qualifications, I hope serious consideration will be given to the abandonment of unit assessments, which have come to dominate and negate learning experiences not only for 16+ pupils but also those in S2-4.

With their emphasis on passfail and "minimum competence", we seem oblivious that unit assessments run contrary to the philosophy of formative assessment, where we seek to ensure that we use assessment for learning rather than per se. The reality is that most learners and many teachers now only want to know that the unit has been passed. Little consideration tends to be given to where the gaps in learning lie.

There is also the issue of "class cleansing" when SQA co-ordinators are informed by teachers that Johnny is no longer taking Higher gardening because he failed the first unit assessment. We all know young people who manage to get their act together in the last few months of the course and do well in the final exam. Unit assessments were supposed to spread the pressure and provide support through the year. However, they are of little support if the pupil has no future in the subject because of a failed unit in the preceding October.

We have had the situation where a pupil has passed a Higher exam but not received an award because of a failed unit earlier.

I am concerned that the qualifications may mirror current Intermediate exams, where there is a risk for some S3-4s in attempting a particular level on the basis that they may get a "D" or "no award" after four years' of education. If pupils follow a Standard grade course, it is unlikely they will fail to secure an overall award, since it is a more inclusive, learner-orientated and forgiving assessment instrument. My hope would be that the new examinations leave internal assessment for learning to teachers and that the summative assessment instruments reflect the broader, innovative and joined-up learning which should result from A Curriculum for Excellence.

Neal McGowan, rector, Larbert High.

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