This genie of technology can help to boost attainment

10th August 2007 at 01:00
Jerry Jarvis is managing director of the exam board Edexcel

This year's A-level, AS level and GCSE results from Edexcel will be complemented by a remarkable online analysis called ResultsPlus, which is free. We aimed to create a continuous picture of performance at student and cohort level in a simple, accessible format, to offer a complete personal snapshot of strengths and weaknesses.

But it has become clear to us that the programme will have significant implications for teachers, students and parents. Although the service is unique to Edexcel, this is not about the capability of a single awarding body. New technology has let the genie out of the bottle. The development of sophisticated software means that teachers will be able to see precisely how well each cohort and each student has performed to a fine level of detail. They will be able to map exam performance to mastery of particular areas of the curriculum.

The trials show that it can transform teaching and quickly improve grades. Heads can, in turn, see exactly how well the syllabuses are being taught, comparing their school with others in precise detail, and they can see what to do about it. Weaknesses are evident improvements can be precisely targeted. Teachers have recognised the significant power that this technology has to influence learning and achievement. It could free teacher-time for truly expressive learning.

This development will inevitably fuel concern about teaching to the test. That is for others to debate. Awarding bodies have a clear role to play in setting standards and measuring performance. More importantly, heads will now have access to a detailed analysis of outcomes with management implications for teacher performance measurement. We set out to empower students by making the system more transparent and accessible. They will get access to results online (with their centre's permission).

This is the first step in enabling students to assess their own performance and address areas of weakness. They will be able to see how close they were to grade boundaries, and take a more informed view of whether they should challenge Edexcel's marking. This may trigger an increase in appeals, but hopefully more informed appeals. Later in the year, students will be able to access formative "diagnostic tests", a revolutionary online programme that enables them to identify continually areas of strength and weakness before high-stakes exams that will ultimately drive up league-table scores.

We are now capable of providing students (and, by implication, parents) with the same precise analysis that we are giving teachers. We can even show them how well they are being taught. This could ultimately enable students to challenge the system that teaches and assesses them. That could arguably be the catalyst for very rapid improvement or could, on the other hand, be a recipe for endless litigation. I should stress that we do not intend to deploy all of this capability to students, but it signals a compelling direction of travel.

If we have the courage to empower the learner we could, today, deploy a learning environment giving access to the digital specification, learning materials and diagnostic tests, transcending the institutional boundary. The teacher becomes the coach. The student can measure and compare their personal performance against a cohort, centre and national level.

Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, once famously called examinations a "cottage industry". That statement was the spur to investment and innovation. We now have to deal with the consequences of technical capabilities that offer great opportunities for student empowerment and performance improvement. We cannot undo the technical capability that now exists. Are we brave enough to seize the opportunity to make it a positive force for improving attainment?

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