Manageable steps

30th May 2003 at 01:00
An online system for assessing pupils' ability - not just their work - has many advantages for teachers and pupils alike. Gerald Haigh reports

Teaching is full of impossible tasks. Take the assessment of key stage 3 information and communiction technology, for example: you have a computer room full of lively boys and girls who are working at different levels.

You're supposed to keep tabs on what they are all doing and also give individual attention to the ones who need it - and it's not enough just to look at finished work.

As Helen Wilkes, ICT co-ordinator at Ridgeway Middle School in Worcestershire says: "The problem is that you're not assessing the end-product alone, but how the student's got to that point."

Related to this is the difficulty of assessing what you're supposed to.

"There's a danger of assessing ICT skills rather than how they are using ICT applied to their work."

She says the challenge is to keep abreast of what the pupils are doing.

"You should be interacting with the children, talking to them about how they are using the computer, why they think the computer is better for this or that task. When you're teaching a large class once a week, that's difficult."

For Helen Wilkes, a good part of the answer lies in using the Managed Assessment Portfolio System (MAPS) from TAG Learning. The beauty of this online system is the way that it organises tasks, saving work in progress and allowing the teacher to intervene and comment.

The system provides assessment tasks that support the KS3 scheme of work in ICT, and "galleries" for showing finished work. There's also a moderation portfolio which considerably eases the task of comparing work across schools.

It also helps with time management, posting reminders to pupils about when work has to be handed in, and warning teachers about what work awaits marking and what hasn't arrived. And all of this is accessible from home.

The pupils at Ridgeway enjoy using MAPS, partly because (in contrast with the way that some adults feel about computers) they are more comfortable with all of their work saved on a computer network than they are with a pile of paperwork that they have to keep in order. As one of them put it:

"It's so easy to get into the work when you need to - and it's all there".

This same accessibility appeals to Helen Wilkes. "It's so much better than portfolios in a cupboard - it means an awful lot more. The children take more ownership and can look at their work after school - and it's accessible to them from home, which gives them the option of involving parents."

As work is also kept as it progresses, along with teacher comments and assessments, it's relatively easy for a different teacher to come along and discover what stage each child has reached on the syllabus, and how he or she is managing.

Also, if a supply or cover teacher takes an ICT class, the head of department can still - without coming into the room or even into school - set tasks for the class and monitor their work.

The work is also more secure than a paper portfolio because nothing is held on the school premises. The system is managed by TAG Learning on its own servers, which means that the school doesn't have to worry about virus protection or backing up.

Currently, online portfolios are particularly suited to ICT for reasons of simple logistics - the children are usually in the ICT room when doing the subject. There are pointers, however, to what can happen across the curriculum once we reach the stage where every child has a laptop and internet access in each classroom and at home.

Managed Assessment Portfolio System from Tag LearningPrices start at pound;1.80 per pupil for the first year and pound;1.52 per pupil for subsequent years, if a large number of schools buy in together. This is probably more relevant if a large local education authority andor Regional Broadband Consortium purchases the system. For a single school buying into MAPS the cost is pound;3.25 per pupil. This price covers all of the first year costs, after which the subscription price drops to pound;2.75 per pupilTel: 01474

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