Teachers who claim that exam marking schemes are a mystery to them can now be enlightened at the touch of a button.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority has launched a new website - www.understandingstandards.org.uk - to make the marking and assessment process for National Qualifications more open and transparent.
The password-protected site is concentrating initially on marking guidelines and so far covers 11 of the most popular subjects at Higher: biology, business management, care, chemistry, English, history, home economics, mathematics, modern languages, modern studies and physics.
Guidelines on a number of other subjects are now being developed at various levels. The SQA is currently filming the practical elements of exams such as drama and PE so that teachers can practise grading these elements and see how SQA assessors assess them.
Teachers can select an authentic response from a candidate and assess it online, having been given guidance already on the examiners' criteria. With an online mark as well as a rationale for their grading, the teacher can then read the actual mark and accompanying assessment from an experienced SQA assessor. This is what makes it different from previous exemplars.
Brendan Tierney, one of the SQA's project managers on the computer assisted assessment team, who has been involved in setting up the Understanding Standards website, said: "We are trying to open things up within the SQA and feel it is important that we allow people to understand what the standards are. I was a teacher for 15 to 16 years and, while I marked my own classes' prelim work during all of that time, I never was all that sure whether I was doing it properly."
Dr Tierney added: "If people are using qualifications that the SQA is offering, then we have a responsibility to show what we expect from them."
The two key objectives of the new website are to be comprehensive, definitive and accessible; and to allow teachers to develop their assessment skills. The team plans to update the site from future examination papers, having sought advice from subject specialists on key points which should be highlighted to teachers.
Dr Tierney said: "We are not just explaining how to mark question two in this year's Higher paper, but also giving an indication of the principles behind how we mark these questions. If people understand these, they can apply them elsewhere."