Pointless pursuit of minimum competence

28th March 2008 at 00:00
I read with interest John Greenlees's letter on unit assessments being "an unnecessary stress" (March 14).

The more able pupils find the national assessment bank tests (NABs) generate an equally worrying, indeed unhelpful, dulling down of effort as they indicate minimum competence (ability at C). Who can blame them for aiming for a mere pass, when the reality can be at least one NAB per week? It is, however, hardly a mentality conducive to the pursuit of a curriculum "for excellence".

Among the less able, too, the reliance on minimum competence encourages unrealistic expectations of a pass at the end of the course. A student scraping through NABs, perhaps passing every one at reassessment or even at second reassessment, often believes, erroneously, that a course award is likely.

At this time of year, as we approach the deadline for unit passes and entry levels, how many teachers can relate to my exasperation at the almost daily battles with students intent on staying in Higher when a move to Intermediate 2 is the only chance of any award in the subject?

I am concerned, too, about the significant number of withdrawals from courses caused by failure to pass NABs. This seems, anecdotally, a particular problem among S3 and S4 students where the Intermediate qualification has replaced Standard grade.

If we must have NABs, can't we have fewer? And can't we have content broadened, perhaps to cover two units rather than one, to replicate prelim-type breadth of assessment? Is it really helpful for students on the same course to operate with two types of assessments - one aimed at minimum competence, the other at excellence?

In fact, why don't we abandon minimum competence for NABs altogether and adopt A-C grading, as in the prelims? Then NABs may be useful as realistic indicators of likely end-of-course attainment - a valuable learning experience rather than, as at present, a stressful, assessment-driven race.

Shelagh Duncan, acting depute rector, Berwickshire High.

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