Sift true assessment out of the 'semolina'

16th October 2009 at 01:00

So the latest assessment guidance is "like swimming through semolina", according to one of your commentators (October 2). Perhaps that's because we seem determined to construe "national qualifications" and "assessment" as identical and interchangeable.

The purpose of A Curriculum for Excellence is to enable all young people to demonstrate their capacity for success as learners, their confidence, responsibility and effectiveness - in short, their readiness to take part in an adult world which none of us can predict with certainty. Why, then, an apparent assumption that guidance about assessment for ACfE should begin and end with national qualifications? Why swap semolina for water?

No one disputes the need for a trustworthy qualification and certification process. Given our growing awareness of the power of other forms of assessment to improve learning, and considering the purpose of ACfE, should we not be reaching beyond what is looking like a naive belief that the best and only preparation for real life involves a diet of practice, practice, practice (under exam conditions!), followed by a few hours sweating over paper-and-pencil tests at the end of a course of study?

For some years, I have had the chance to support the work of Highland Council teachers in using a broader understanding of assessment to explore how better to prepare students for high-stakes exams. The Scottish Qualifications Authority recently published a favourable report of their efforts (Justmakingthemthink; http:www.sqa.org.uksqa35847.html).

No less a figure than Professor Paul Black has taken time to offer some thoughts (also published on the SQA website) on how these teachers, their authority and Scottish government agencies might further develop a coherent approach to assessment as part of learning and teaching in the senior phase.

Let's have a conversation about how a mature, thoughtful approach to assessment as an integral part of learning and teaching might support and sustain the development of ACfE. Sadly, we seem more disposed to choke on the semolina.

Eric Young, Mayfield, Biggar.

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