Assessment stalled

30th October 2009 at 00:00
Most schools have made no headway in measuring the `four capacities', says report

Five years on from the launch of A Curriculum for Excellence, little progress has been made in assessing the wider skills of pupils - the key "four capacities" which are supposed to drive the flagship reform.

According to researchers, who contacted every council in Scotland and received replies from 21, none has issued guidance to schools on assessing the capacities, although five said they were "developing possible assessment resources".

This was in spite of the "dominant professional view" that, without the assessment of pupils' attributes which went beyond their exam results, the main objectives of A Curriculum for Excellence - to create confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens - "would not continue to be the core".

Their study, a copy of which has been seen by The TESS, was carried out by a team of educational psychologists in Renfrewshire. It noted: "Research has suggested that both learners and teachers often pay attention to those curricular aspects that are to be assessed and may ignore those that are not."

Most councils said they were waiting for further guidance from the Scottish Government.

Former education minister Peter Peacock has now called for action. Writing in this week's TESS, the man who was the political architect of the reform states that developing and measuring pupils' four capacities is "among the great challenges to our system".

Exams would "rightly be a part of that measurement, but how limiting if the only data we have and can use is exam results", he adds.

The research team, led by Renfrewshire's principal educational psychologist Richard Woolfson, said there was a "paucity of research about assessing progress in the four capacities". It even found that the education faculties at Strathclyde, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities had no plans to research how the four capacities might be assessed.

The psychologists' report blamed "limited guidance from the Scottish Government" and called for "greater clarity" about what the four capacities should look like in pupils at different ages and stages.

Renfrewshire Council is taking matters into its own hands, and claims to be the first authority to embark on creating an assessment approach for the four capacities. At its heart will be the creation of a "baseline of expectation" in relation to each of the capacities for P1-S6 pupils.

Dr Woolfson said: "All human behaviour is measurable. We aim to create a straightforward assessment which will allow teachers to benchmark where pupils are, in terms of becoming a confident individual or a successful learner."

The study highlighted teachers' reservations about assessing the capacities, however. They expressed concern about workload increases and the measurement of emotions and personality. They also said that grading pupils on the capacities would be contrary to A Curriculum for Excellence.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We published the assessment strategy for Curriculum for Excellence last month, while later this school year we will be giving further guidance to schools when the framework for assessment is published."

News, pages 4-5

Comment, page 21.

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