SQA well ahead on e-assessment

9th March 2007 at 00:00
I read with interest Elizabeth Buie's article, "Their future is electronic" (February 23), and am delighted to see the ambition expressed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to make Scotland a centre of excellence for computer-based assessment.

The article refers to computerised assessment as "emerging technologies", which is true when compared with paper and pencil testing and marking. Such technology has, in fact, been in Scotland for more than seven years. It has been overlooked in Britain because of the scepticism with which it is often met by the education community. Scotland now seems to be leading the turnaround as the technology proves itself.

If Scottish educationists are to achieve their ambitions of putting e-assessment into practice in schools, they need only look elsewhere in Scotland, from construction and finance to health care and law, where computerised assessment is already being used with great success.

The SQA is also right in its assertion that e-assessment will enhance the quality of assessment, but the caveat that it's "not about saving money" is modest; there is proof from other countries and sectors that e-assessment brings benefits in both areas.

As an assessment company, we have seen how these developments avoid resources being wasted in moving papers around, so time and expertise can be spent more effectively devising better, more secure, more accurate summative exams on the computer. Also, the ability to score candidates immediately removes much of the "last leg" costs of assessment, such as printing, marking, logistics, security and postage.

Of course, the written essay will not, and ought not to, go away. Equally, nobody expects computers to replace teachers.

Educationists in England are waking up to the benefits of e-assessment, and some are predicting that it will be the norm in 10 years. In Scotland, the SQA seems to be several steps ahead.

Geoff Chapman Thomson Prometric, Union Street, Edinburgh

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