Deliver us from test fatigue

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Assessment for learning has the potential to transform the classroom experience for both teachers and pupils

Assessment for learning has the potential to transform the classroom experience for both teachers and pupils. If it works as it should, it could also lead to a decisive shift away from "high-stakes" testing towards a system that supports children's learning, helping them to build on their strengths and develop their self-esteem.

There is no question about its potential. With a fair wind, it could become one of those rare ideas that change the educational landscape. For that to happen, however, two significant barriers must be overcome.

The first is workload. Teachers need more time to think and plan their lessons effectively. They need more time, as Professor Paul Black says (see our special report, pages 19-22), to reflect on their practice and to work collaboratively with colleagues. And they need more time to ensure every child receives feedback, so they know what they are good at and what they need to improve on.

The second barrier is the present testing system, which obliges teachers to spend hours on test preparation and leaves little time to assess children's individual progress.

The solution is to cut back on the number of externally marked, age- related tests and move towards a series of assessments that children take "when ready". The aim should be to check progress and identify areas of strength and weakness.

Most teachers would agree that this is the best way to teach. It is the key to encouraging pupils to become active, questioning learners, and infinitely better than making them cram for a key stage test.

The problem is that "when ready" tests will only be effective as long as they are not used directly to judge the performance of teachers and schools. Otherwise, they will become just another high-stakes measure, with teachers urging pupils to retake the tests until they get the required level.

The Government has a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. It will require an increased commitment to freeing up teachers' time, including additional training days to allow them to work and plan effectively together.

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