The heat is on for testing

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Your New Year editorial was timed well and should provoke some thought. It was disappointing, though, to see even more battle lines being drawn ("Rebellion on test changes", January 9) only a week later.

It may be forlorn, but we should still hope that the coming months will produce more light than heat as we argue over testing, assessment and reporting 3-14.

An example of the heat we can expect came last week in support of standardised testing which, it was claimed, "can be used very effectively for diagnostic and formative purposes, as well as simply for measuring attainment".

To be used formatively, the student's script from a standardised test would actually have to be used by the student in some way - and perhaps by peers and teacher, too - to guide future improvements in that student's learning.

So far as I know, no standardised test script is ever returned to, let alone used by, its author after the test is completed. If that is so, a claim that standardised tests can be "used very effectively" for formative purposes could only have been made in some ignorance of what formative assessment actually is: the use of appropriate and specific feedback to direct and support a student's future learning.

The statistical results of standardised tests - grades - that find their way back to the school may have some marginal value in providing a relatively expensive baseline for evaluating the general efficacy of formative assessment over a longer period of time. But, as the consultation paper seemed to suggest, an integrated assessment system could do that anyway at less direct cost to the school or the authority.

By contrast, your readers should know about an example of the illumination possible with formative assessment taken from Assessment for Learning: putting it into practice, written by Paul Black and others at King's College London.

It is the day after a maths teacher has addressed the staff about his work on formative assessment. The speaker teaches English: "Yesterday afternoon was fantastic. I tried it today with my Year 8s and it works. No hands up and giving them time to think. I had fantastic responses from kids who have barely spoken in class all year. They all wanted to say something and the quality of answers was brilliant. This is the first time for ages that I've learned something new that's going to make a real difference to my teaching."

More light than heat could do the same for other teachers in 2004.

Eric Young

iTelligent Classrooms Mayfield Biggar

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