National curriculum assessment at a turning point: successes, failures and alternatives
8 June 2009
At a time of dramatic changes in national testing, an authoritative and thought provoking Special Issue reviews the successes and failures of national curriculum assessment (NCA) over the last fifteen years and possible replacements for the current system.
NFER’s Chris Whetton, editor of National Curriculum Assessment in England: how well has it worked? Perspectives from the UK, Europe and beyond, chose the subject ‘because it matters….a critical evaluation of something that has such an influence on generations of a nation’s children is vital, giving lessons for the future and for other countries and their own reforms.’
Articles in this special issue of Educational Research include:
‘A Brief History of a Testing Time’ tells the story of NCA from its precursors in the 1980s to the situation in 2008. Chris Whetton explains the interactions of the political background, educational philosophy and assessment issues and how these have changed over time.
In ‘Determining Validity in National Curriculum Assessments’, Gordon Stobart concludes that the main concerns about validity are that test results are being used for too many purposes and that the high stakes nature of some of these distorts teaching and learning.
Paul Newton explains the difficulties of reaching a simple conclusion in ‘The Reliability of Results from National Curriculum Testing in England’ and calls for more debate on how much error is acceptable.
In their article ‘Considering Alternatives to NCA Arrangements in England: Possibilities and Opportunities’, Sylvia Green and Tim Oates recommend national monitoring through a low-stakes survey and local accountability through teacher assessment.
The special issue includes papers from assessment specialists in other countries, which show that concerns in England are neither unique nor special. The five authors reflect a range of attitudes to assessment; Sweden’s system is largely based on teacher assessment, in Italy there’s a lack of interest in formal testing, and in America the individual states have accountability systems of greater complexity and with more targets than we see in England.
Chris Whetton’s conclusion is that improvement isn’t simple: ‘To develop a national assessment system which is fair to all in a diverse society, provides valid information with great accuracy, supports teaching and learning, raises levels of attainment for children of all backgrounds, provides accountability measures for society, is economically viable, and is accepted by all involved in education, is not just difficult, it is impossible. But that does not mean that the attempt is a vain effort.’
National Curriculum Assessment in England: how well has it worked? Perspectives from the UK, Europe and beyond is published by Routledge, a part of the Taylor and Francis Group.
For more information or for a review copy please contact Gail Goodwin, NFER Media and Communications Manager, on 01753 637159, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) is the UK’s largest independent educational research organisation. NFER’s mission is to contribute to improving education, training and children’s services by undertaking research, evaluation and assessment, and communicating the results effectively.
For more information visit www.nfer.ac.uk.