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Time to change direction in attitude to assessment

Teachers should look forward to marking rather than finding it a chore, as many do at present.

West Dunbartonshire education director Terry Lanagan outlined that ambition in a presentation at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week, during which he expressed the hope that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) would lead to a fundamental shift in attitudes to assessment.

"People talk about being snowed under with marking, but they don't say they're snowed under with teaching," Mr Lanagan told The TESS. "It's seen as something separate from teaching and learning, traditionally."

There was "no use" in handing back a piece of work with a score out of 10 and a cursory remark, such as "pretty good but could do better".

A driving instructor, he said, would never end a lesson with such a vague observation - he or she would discuss in detail how the learner could get better, and so should teachers.

As a principal teacher of English in the 1980s and early proponent of the principles underlying the Assessment is for Learning programme, Mr Lanagan had persuaded colleagues to stop using marks and grades. But resistance came from parents, who wanted to know how their children ranked against classmates.

CfE, with its emphasis on all aspects of learning, provided hope that Scotland could now shake off its "obsession" with exam results and league tables.

Teachers were gradually shaking off the "security blanket" of rigid testing that the pressures of the 5-14 curriculum had encouraged; assessing work jointly with pupils should be a rewarding process they all looked forward to.

Mr Lanagan also believed today's parents would be more receptive to a move away from traditional marking than those who raised objections in the 1980s.

A sell-out audience of 175 - made up largely of teachers and trainees - responded positively to his views on assessment and marking, he found.

There was enthusiasm about the likely impact of Curriculum for Excellence on assessment, tempered by a perception that its outcomes and experiences were too vague.

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