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Technology-based Assessment Arrangements for SQA 2020-21 Assessments

by Paul Nisbet

on Mon Dec 14, 2020

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All National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher assessments are now going to be assessed by schools and centres internally. What does this involve for learners with disabilities or additional support needs who use technology to access learning?

Covid-19 has already had significant impact on teaching, learning and assessment for National Qualifications: the 2020 examination diet was of course cancelled; in October, the 2021 National 5 external examinations were called off; and last week we heard that examinations for Highers and Advanced Highers are also cancelled.

Instead, awards will be based on teacher and lecturer judgement supported by quality assurance. What does this mean for learners with disabilities or additional support needs who would require Assessment Arrangements in examinations? And what does technology have to offer?

Impact of Covid-19 on assessment arrangements

Many learners with ASN are supported in class and during examinations by staff who read, prompt, scribe or provide practical help: in 2019 there were 9,884 requests for a reader, 5,818 requests for a scribe and 2,302 requests for use of a prompter in SQA examinations. In my discussions with colleagues, I hear that Covid-19 restrictions are impacting on support for learners in several ways:

  • In class, support staff may only be able to work in one class bubble and so may not be available to support learners in a different class.
  • Peripatetic staff are restricted in terms of the number and frequency of schools and contacts that they can visit.
  • Staffing levels may be reduced because practitioners are unwell or self-isolating (2,184 staff were absent due to Covid-19 related reasons, of which, 1,287 were teaching staff and 897 were other school-based staff on 8/12/20).
  • In many schools it is not possible to run internal assessments for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher for year groups because classes are not mixing and gym or assembly halls are not big enough. Therefore assessments are taking place in classes and the organisation of support for learners is a far bigger and more complex task for ASN and Support for Learning staff and for subject teachers.

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements

In CALL we have been receiving many calls and emails from colleagues who are wanting to use assistive technology, such as computer readers and speech-to-text, because of the challenge of providing personal support to learners for internal assessments.

Modern digital technology has increasingly effective assistive tools and features and so has the potential to reduce at least of this reliance on readers and scribes. And in the process, develop students’ autonomy, confidence and independence.

This year many more learners have access to digital technology. Pupils in Glasgow and Scottish Borders are being provided with personal iPads; learners in Aberdeen, Highland, Moray, Stirling and West Dunbartonshire are receiving Chromebooks; and clearly these students are expecting to use these devices during assessments. But I'm hearing many questions and challenges around the administration of internal assessments, particularly for iPads and Chromebooks, and so this week I will write a series of blogs that I hope will provide some answers to the more common questions.

To help me address your questions, I'm very keen to find out more about what's happening in your school so please get in touch by emailing Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk if you would like to ask any specific questions or share your experiences.

Watch this space!

Tags: assessments, national 5, higher, support

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