Interactive assessment could put humans out of the game

May 26, 2000

The Scottish post-school examination system, which has already undergone radical reforms, faces a further revolution within five years because of information technology.

The prediction came from Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, as he addressed its annual conference in Edinburgh.

Mr Tuck said there were "some very positive signs" as the SQA approached the end of the first year of implementing the Higher Still reforms, which unify post-16 academic and vocational qualifications.

The SQA is proposing to revolutionise assessment, which could ultimately mean marking will be done by computer rather than by humans.

Mr Tuck said there was a huge increase in demand for assessment material, which had to be flexible but still reliable in terms of national standards.

"This poses a big challenge that cannot be met by doing things in the old way. We have to work smarter," he said.

As a first step, the SQA wants to see large banks of pre-tested assessment material in all subject areas, which staff who are designing exams are able to draw on.

It also wants to move to online assessments, although Mr Tuck acknowledged this would depend on the pace of developments in the various education and training sectors. There would also have to be an investigation into the effect on candidates' performance, and there would be some areas, such as practical skills, in which computer-based assessments would not be appropriate.

But online developments have advantages beyond efficiency, including more interactive forms of assessment, Mr Tuck said. "Finally, as the software becomes smarter, there is an increasing possibility of computer marking of assessments, although this is likely to remain difficult in many areas."

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