Assessment in Scotland

By Harris, Linda; Gallagher, Hugh et al. | NATE Classroom, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Assessment in Scotland


Harris, Linda, Gallagher, Hugh, Soltysek, Raymond, Allan, Jenny, Lawson, John, NATE Classroom


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As the latest canon rumblings from the SATs wars drift across the border and through the volcanic ash, it may bemuse some colleagues to discover that here too, in a relatively benign assessment environment, teachers of English have the scent of battle in their nostrils. Our new curriculum framework, Curriculum for Excellence (2004), is beginning to unfold or unravel, depending on your perspective; it still promises much that is desirable, but the fact that assessment remains rather vague is seen by some as threatening a successful launch.

Underpinning all current thinking in Scottish education is the 'Assessment is for Learning' programme, implemented here by 'Learning and Teaching Scotland' in 2002. What began as a tender sapling is now a burgeoning healthy plant, in part owing to the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence; of course, it is a well-established shrub in England too. Both the new Curriculum and the AifL Programme, designed for the primary and secondary sectors alike, align themselves firmly with the 'child at the centre' philosophy and are, therefore, rooted in the same soil. Curriculum for Excellence advocates the holistic development of each child into a 'responsible citizen' fit for the 21st Century, while AifL propels the child into a bright, new future in which she is actually given responsibility for her own learning. These concepts are not exactly original, but isn't it the case that some of our less enlightened colleagues need a refresher?

There are three 'prongs' to the AifL programme: namely Assessment for Learning, Assessment as Learning and Assessment of Learning. Incidentally, these three areas are portrayed as sides of a triangle in the diagram on the programme's posters. Assessment for learning focuses on the next step required in the learning process to assist the learner to progress to the desired target. Yes, this is what good teaching has always been about and we all know that it can be achieved to some extent through sharing criteria with learners, effective questioning and feedback. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, whose research underpins much of the practical application of the programme, define assessment for learning as 'all those activities undertaken by teachers and/ or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged'. So, scary as it can sometimes be, bald reflection on classroom practice still has an important place. The second 'prong', Assessment as Learning, is about reflecting on the evidence of learning. Pupils and staff set learning targets, share learning intentions and success criteria, and evaluate their learning through self and peer assessment. Through this learners become more aware of what they are learning, what assists them with learning and, most importantly, they become metacognitive--aware of their own knowledge and their ability to understand, control, and manipulate their own learning. Clearly, this is where the 'control freaks' amongst us are going to have to learn to let go.

Assessment of Learning, the third 'prong', is where teachers and others use a range of evidence to evaluate pupils' progress in a summative way. Judgements about pupils' progress need to be valid, reliable and comparable across classes, schools and sectors. Moderation arrangements should be robust in order to ensure consistency and this is effectively achieved by teachers evaluating the learning and teaching that has occurred and agreeing on appropriate feedback for learners. Back into the comfort zone for our freakishly controlling colleagues.

The tenets of formative assessment are clearly not new and their efficacy has been well documented. Indeed it has been successfully embedded in (some) classroom practice, for many years. However, as with all things, it has revisited us in a slightly different costume and made itself a prominent character in the drama of our new Curriculum. …

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