Labour urged to ease off on testing;BERA conference

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
As the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association gets under way, Karen Thornton looks at papers that are being presented on computer literacy, training for deputy heads, formative assessment and advanced-skills teachers

EVERY pupil's GCSE results could be boosted by one or two grades if there was less emphasis on tests and more on involving young people in their learning.

A group of eminent academics today called on the Government to champion pupil-centred "assessment for learning", or formative assessment, as it is also known.

They say there is no evidence that testing raises standards. But changing teachers' use of assessment and giving students constructive feedback does, according to research commissioned by the group that was published last year.

Speaking at the British Educational Research Association's annual conference, members of the Assessment Reform Group urged the Government to put more emphasis on assessment for learning as part of its drive to raise standards.

Inspection evidence suggests even the most effective schools are failing to make the most of such assessment methods. And things are unlikely to change when so much importance is placed on key stage and GCSE results, they say.

"There is no evidence that increasing the amount of testing will enhance learning. Instead, the focus needs to be on helping teachers use assessment, as part of teaching and learning, in ways that will help raise pupils' achievement," says the group.

"The very high stakes attached to test results, especially at key stage 2, are now encouraging teachers to focus on practising test-taking rather than on using assessment to support learning. Pupils are increasingly seeing assessment as something which labels them and is a source of anxiety, with low achievers in particular often being demoralised."

The group says assessment for learning should be made central to the Government's programme for raising standards by: revising initial teacher-training standards and the framework for the inspection of ITT; supporting school and education authority initiatives via the Standards Fund; revising the school inspection framework and offering inspectors appropriate training; publishing examples of good practice.

"We believe that such a plan would bring demonstrable improvements in the quality of classroom learning. Education policies at the national level cannot afford to neglect this vital component in any strategy for raising educational standards," they warn.

The Assessment Reform Group is currently funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Its members are Professor Patricia Broadfoot, Bristol University; Professor Richard Daugherty, University College Aberystwyth; Professor John Gardner, Queen's University, Belfast; Professor Caroline Gipps, Kingston University, London; Professor Wynne Harlen, formerly of the Scottish Council for Research in Education; Dr Mary James, Cambridge University; and Dr Gordon Stobart, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

"Assessment for learning: Beyond the black box", copies available from University of Cambridge, School of Education, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 2BX. Price pound;1.25 plus 30p postage and packing.

ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING MEANS:

* Helping pupils know and recognise the standards they are aiming for.

* Involving pupils in self-assessment.

* Providing feedback to pupils on their next learning steps and how to take them.

* Being confident that every student can improve.

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