Assessments and "professional judgement"

Ceitidh Smith talks about the challenges of using "professional judgement" when assessing pupils studying for the new national qualifications.

Gaelic and Scottish Studies Probationer Teacher, Forfar Academy

On paper they are all relatively straight forward – complete the elements, get the unit pass, boom. N5 assessments especially don’t have much to them but N4, on the other hand, given the lack of an external exam, have a huge amount of elements.

The most difficult thing about this year is that we’re all flying blind, everything is new and the tests are untested.

One difference is that all the assessments are produced by the SQA and teachers are to use these assessments for the first two years of the national courses unless they have something verified by the SQA. This gives less autonomy to the teacher, but it does make sure that standards are maintained across the board.

Using professional judgement

One of the phrases used in marking criteria is “teachers should use their professional judgement”. My initial thoughts on this were – “what professional judgement?”! New teachers in particular don’t have vast amounts of experience in the old system of assessments on which to draw, and no one has any experience in the new system; thus, “what professional judgement?”.

My approach to this – and I’m not suggesting I’m 100 per cent correct – is to try and understand the logic of the candidate. If you can see why they would put a particular answer to something, and they clearly have the right concept, then give them the mark. If in doubt, talk to them. CfE allows for this and if the pupil can explain why they’ve put a particular answer it should be valid – if it isn’t completely off the wall of course!

Every teacher’s professional judgement is being tested by the new system but like all new systems it will soon become embedded and it is clear that when compared with the start of the year we are all much more knowledgeable about the standards expected from both ourselves and our pupils.