Neil Munro outlines the latest reports from the Higher Still consultations. "Overall the volume of assessment activity undertaken by teachers and lecturers should be reduced," the Higher Still assessment document declares.
Despite more extensive internal testing by teachers and fears over rampant "ticking of boxes", the document stresses that "the large number of small assessments which characterises much of current practice will be replaced by more holistic forms". "Outcome-by-outcome, criterion-by-criterion" assessment should normally be avoided.
Assessment emerged as the greatest concern among schools during last year's consultations on the subject frameworks. The document confirms that the 40-hour units that make up courses will be internally assessed while the full courses will be externally tested. Students will have to pass units as well as courses to receive an award.
Programme developers pledge that their watchword is "manageability". But they accept that unit assessment to provide evidence for certification, measure progress and provide course estimates is "a professionally challenging task".
The development programme and the new Scottish Qualifications Authority will produce a "national bank" of assessment instruments for every Higher Still unit that is part of a course (as opposed to additional units which are not key parts of courses). "This should be a great relief to the profession because it is what they asked for," Mary Pirie, chief development officer for Higher Still, says.
The Higher Still developers hope to allay teacher anxieties by highlighting the normality of the new arrangements. "The amount and type of assessment undertaken within Higher Still courses should be very similar to current practice in Higher and CSYS courses," the document states. "End-of-topic tests and other forms of in-course assessment will continue but will have the additional purpose of providing evidence for unit certification."
Ms Pirie says the main demand during the consultation was for integrative assessment "and we think we have achieved that".
The document recommends that "internal assessment should be carried out at the most appropriate point in the learning process", partly determined by students' readiness and partly by the nature of the outcomes being assessed.
Pupils ought to be assessed in a relevant way. "For example, if the ability to perform is central to a particular unit, learning outcomes and criteria will focus on performing and not on the candidate's ability to write about performing."
The developers believe a mix of internal and external assessment is preferable since this meets the key criteria that assessment should be "valid, reliable, credible, compatible with effective learning, flexible, practicable and cost-effective".
The value of unit assessments, the document continues, lies in ensuring that all learning outcomes are covered, motivating pupils, rewarding progress and giving credit for partial course achievements.
A check on standards will be made in much the same way as at present by approving centres to run exams, validating qualifications, monitoring standards through external examinations and moderating internal assessment. As teachers and lecturers become more experienced in assessing students, moderation will be targeted and thus the amount of checking will be reduced.