Letter to the Education and Skills Committee from Dr Ken Boston, Chief Executive, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority welcomes the opportunity to present this submission to the Select Committee.
The QCA is the statutory national authority for testing and assessment in England. It is responsible for development and delivery of the national curriculum tests, and for provision of the national results to Government. It regulates the market for delivery of nationally-accredited general qualifications and vocational qualifications by awarding bodies. It is responsible for the maintenance of assessment standards year on year. It is leading and managing current and projected reforms in the delivery and modernisation of tests and examinations.
The QCA is thus at the fulcrum of the national testing and assessment programme. It delivers, promotes and defends testing and assessment as a means for securing better teaching and learning, and for measuring and reporting change in educational outcomes at individual, institutional and national level. This point is important: the QCA is the guardian of standards, and its public contributions to the discussion of assessment reform are entirely from that perspective.
It is also important to acknowledge the strengths of the current assessment system, and in particular those of the national curriculum tests. Each national curriculum test is the product of a developmental process extending over more than two years, during which the test items and mark schemes are rigorously pre-tested, trialled and refined, and then pre-tested, trialled and refined again. The quality of these tests stands comparison with any similar tests developed internationally. Further, the techniques developed by the DfES to analyse change in educational performance at individual, school and local authority level over time, and to plan and deliver strategic interventions in response, have now reached a level of sophistication and practical utility which is world class. Such strengths are the product of well-managed and steady evolution, which must be the process by which further development continues to occur.
Assessment is integral to good teaching and learning: if teachers understand assessment better, performance will rise. Effective classroom assessment today will improve teaching and learning tomorrow. Timely and effective assessment, which measures and supports their learning, should be an entitlement for all young people. At the same time, the Government must have the most accurate and best possible measure of educational performance at school, local authority and national level. The introduction of the new secondary curriculum provides a timely opportunity to reflect on the best curriculum assessment arrangements from 2011 onwards.
This submission consists of five papers.
Paper 1, Evaluating assessment systems, has been prepared to assist the Select Committee to identify and consider the many complex questions that will arise during the course of the inquiry. It focuses on the key issues of validity, reliability and purpose, which will be at the heart of the Select Committee's deliberations.
Paper 2 is a summary of observations about the national curriculum testing programme, drawn from systematic and formal consultation with schools over a long period. As with any testing system, there is room for further development and extension: the present arrangements provide a foundation on which this can occur.
Within the very foreseeable future, it will be possible for traditional pencil-and-paper assessment largely to be replaced by on-line and even on-demand testing, should that be the desired policy direction. Paper 3, Testing and assessment: the use of electronic media, describes the current status of these developments and projected future directions. Paper 4, which has been published on the QCA website, sets out the regulatory regime to support the development of e-assessment by awarding bodies, within a national framework which guarantees both standards and security.
Paper 5 is a comparative analysis of testing and assessment systems within a range of other countries. Some of these are above us, and others below us, in terms of international indicators of educational and economic performance.
This submission focuses largely on assessment in the primary and early secondary years of schooling, although much is also relevant to the examinations for the GCSE and GCE qualifications. This has been in response to the broad scope of the terms of reference of the Inquiry, and taking into account the recent attention given by the Select Committee to 14-19 education and the adult skills agenda. There is much to be said however about the assessment and reporting of practical competences and skills in the workplace, and even remotely by the use of technology. Should this be an area the Select Committee wishes to explore, QCA would be very willing to provide a further submission.
We look forward to offering oral evidence in support of the Select Committee Inquiry, and would value the opportunity to respond to matters raised by other contributors.
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