Fiona Hyslop: How to get the measure of pupils

25th September 2009 at 01:00
New assessment plan will promote greater range of learning and measure wider array of skills

The new assessment system under A Curriculum for Excellence will require teachers to measure "how much" and "how well" pupils are progressing, rather than just "how fast", Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop announced this week at the Scottish Learning Festival.

This approach, building on the highly-regarded Assessment is for Learning one, would "promote greater breadth and depth of learning, including a greater focus on the secure development of skills and knowledge", she promised.

The Scottish Survey of Achievement is also to be revamped to focus more on literacy and numeracy. It will no longer sample attainment in science and will not be carried out next year in preparation for the new model being implemented in 2011, Ms Hyslop revealed.

Larry Flanagan, education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the proposals were designed to allow pupils to demonstrate their skills in a more rounded fashion rather than under a straightforward summative test. "There will be a place for summative testing as part of the process but, if we are trying to create an inter-disciplinary approach under ACfE, we should be looking at models of assessment which demonstrate depth and application of understanding rather than simply retention of knowledge," he said.

Ms Hyslop said the future assessment system would be linked closely to the "outcomes and experiences" guidance of ACfE, with teachers' judgments subject to measurement against a national system of quality assurance and moderation. "Overall, the new assessment system will provide a broader and more challenging measure of attainment and a more rigorous approach to quality assurance," she said.

The new system would demand a "cultural shift" requiring more collaborative working, the minister continued. Teachers should have opportunities to discuss and share expectations across the curriculum in order to achieve consistency.

The plans envisage a key role for education authorities in setting up moderation arrangements. A concern is understood to be that the understanding of standards among primary teachers is too variable.

Ms Hyslop said she expected teachers to support the assessment changes. "Some of the harshest criticism that I have heard of the current 5-14 assessment system has come from teachers themselves. We cannot continue with a system where teachers lack confidence in each others' and, in some cases, their own judgment of how pupils are performing."

She launched a document outlining the strategic vision and key principles for assessment, drawn up with considerable support from the management board for ACfE which includes the main teacher unions.

That document states that when assessing progress, teachers will use different types of evidence, depending on the learning activity and learners' preferences about how to show what they have learnt. Teachers would be given support and materials to help them with this task, including the National Assessment Resource - a bank of materials which is under development.

The education secretary also promised that continuing professional development would be provided to support teachers make the necessary change in their practice.

Mr Flanagan predicted there would be a focus on ensuring that, from 3-15, everyone understood what the standards actually meant. But there was still a lot of work to be done in that area, he added.

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