Better, not cheaper, assessment

24th September 2004 at 01:00
We at the exam board OCR have a lot of sympathy with the Secondary Heads'

Association's views about the excessive number of examinations. That's why, four years ago, we launched a debate about key stage 3 tests and, six years ago, we recommended four-unit A-levels, rather than the six-unit versions the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority ultimately favoured. It's also why we have been carrying out extensive research into the use of digital e-portfolios to enable more assessment to take place alongside learning.

We also support any move to professionalise examiners and to increase the capability of teachers to carry out assessment. However, nobody should be under any illusion that using "chartered examiners", or even just moving to more devolved assessment, will save vast sums of public money. These new teacher-assessors will need to be trained, they will need to be paid (presumably more than current examiners?), and the additional work will add to existing workload pressures which prevent many of them marking exams now. Moreover, there must be some sort of external quality control to ensure that all candidates are assessed fairly and that universities and employers can use the outcomes with confidence. That confidence is not available for free.

Moderators or verifiers, appointed by assessment experts such as OCR, will need to visit schools and colleges, not to mark work, but to ensure that assessment standards are being applied correctly. They, too, must be trained, paid and properly supported. Awarding bodies will bear additional costs, too, not least the cost of chasing down thousands of late and missing marks from individual schools and colleges, as we already do for A-level and GCSE coursework.

In short, we all want a smaller assessment burden for learners. A move towards devolved assessment, supported by increased assessment skills among teachers and lecturers, will help. But the costs will not fall, but shift to new and vital ways of sustaining public confidence in the value of qualifications.

Greg Watson Chief executive, OCR 1 Regent Street Cambridge

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