Working to the baseline

I WAS interested to read David Henderson's account (TESS, September 18) of the Aberdeen headteachers' conference on baseline assessment. The account claims that the researchers who addressed the conference took the view that the Scottish Office's proposals for baseline assessment (as yet unpublished) would be unreliable, open to abuse and "should not be used for measuring value-added progress".

As someone closely involved with baseline assessment by conducting an international review of different schemes and by undertaking research on the Scottish Office pilot proposals, I am fully aware that giving credibility to teachers' judgment about children's achievements raises key questions about reliability.

Such questions are now being rigorously addressed by a team sponsored by the Scottish Office consisting of experienced researchers and educationists.

Early indications of one type of reliability measure (the alpha coefficient) shows levels in excess of 0.9, a figure comparable to that cited by alternatives schemes such as PIPS (Performance Indicators in Primary Schools).

But I recognise that more needs to be done by way of assessing inter-rater reliability. Unfortunately, schemes like PIPS which are based on a form of psychometric testing of individual children do little to engage with the teaching and learning process in the classroom.

Clearly the researchers advocating a PIPS-type scheme for Scotland are working to an outdated agenda more concerned with managerialism than with promoting learning. Pehaps they are not aware that there has been a major shift in this agenda.

The current issue is about raising standards through more effective teaching and learning. Formative assessments by teachers are central to this process, as recently confirmed by researchers at King's College, London.

We are finding that teachers and others are very receptive to the pilot procedures for baseline assessment in Scotland. There is no evidence of "abuse" because it is in no one's interest to misrepresent a child's achievements.

With regard to using the assessment for value-added purposes, pilot schools have been invited to take part in a study of follow-up baseline assessment, as part of the Convention of Scottish Local AuthoritiesScottish Office working group's consideration of value-added measures.

(Professor) Eric Wilkinson Department of education Glasgow University

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