Pupil performance should be transparent

14th September 2007 at 01:00
With A Curriculum for Excellence and Assessment is for Learning featuring prominently at this week's Scottish Learning Festival, keynote speakers from England and Ontario talk to Elizabeth Buie about their contrasting approaches

ASSESSMENT RESULTS for pupils should be transparent and public, one of the world's acknowledged experts in turning around failing schools will argue next week.

Michael Fullan, special adviser to the Premier and Education Minister in Ontario, will advocate that a key method of improving educational performance is publishing assessment data.

His pronouncement at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow will set him at odds with the former Scottish Executive's policy of carrying out anonymous surveys of pupil performance prior to pupils sitting SQA exams. He says he "does not buy the arm's length agenda".

But Professor Fullan, who was head of the team that assessed England's national literacy and numeracy strategy from 1998- 2003, does not condone "league tables". In his strategy to reform education for the Liberal administration in Ontario, led by Dalton McGuinty, from 2003, he set the following rules:

* no league tables instead, schools were divided into four bands according to the degree of disadvantage in a school community;

* tell schools "compare yourself with yourself";

* tell schools "compare your- self with those in similar circumstances";

* tell schools "compare yourself to an absolute standard".

He believes that assessment data should be part of public accountability, but sets great store by creating the right conditions for teachers to improve performance. The Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership was set up to work in partnership with schools. It gave the 850 out of 4,000 elementary schools that were failing extra money and help. The OFIP secretariat gave direct support, but schools were also funded to learn from each other.

No stranger to Scottish education (he addressed 500 to 600 headteachers as the guest of former Scottsh education minister Peter Peacock last year), Professor Fullan describes the framework for A Curriculum for Excellence as "excellent": "It is fine that you have an inspirational document like A Curriculum for Excellence, but the disadvantage is being too vague and having too many priorities. Being vague is not bad because you have flexibility. But the worry is losing out on the clarity of implementation."

His priorities are literacy and numeracy. If there are too many aims and they are too vague, there can be problems, he argues: "The role of assessment for learning and of learning needs to be built up as part of the strategy inclu- ding benchmarking."

Within assessment you have to "raise the bar" and "close the gap", taking account of factors such as ethnicity, gender, special needs and English as a second language. Some targets can be tackled immediately, he says, but others like a focus on early childhood from pregnancy to the age of four, or building up the teaching profession through its prestige and working conditions take longer to produce results.


Michael Fullan will give a keynote lecture on Turnaround Schools, Turnaround Systems on September 19, 10.45am.

For a full range of sessions on Assessment is for Learning, go to www.scottishlearningfestival.com

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