The standardised assessments are really just a bad dream

15th February 2019, 12:04am
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The standardised assessments are really just a bad dream

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/standardised-assessments-are-really-just-bad-dream

There is no such thing as the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs). You might think they exist. You might even think your pupils have sat them and you facilitated that. But, like unicorns and fairies, they are, in fact, a myth.

The tests introduced in the 2017-18 school year should not be described as “standardised assessments”.

The impact that this utterly misleading name is having was all too apparent at the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee meeting last week, where its inquiry into the assessments was continuing.

“Confusion” was the buzzword, and that confusion relates, primarily, to the purpose of the tests. The name might convey what the Scottish government originally intended, but those plans have been watered down over time, mainly because the teaching unions would not accept them.

As soon as “national testing” was brought up in 2015 by first minister Nicola Sturgeon, the EIS union made it clear that either it would be involved in the design or it would be balloting its members on boycotting the tests. So a compromise was reached. The tests would go ahead, but whole cohorts would not sit them during a specified window; instead, they would sit them when the teacher deemed it most appropriate.

This is still the government’s intention, although, of course, some councils failed to heed this advice last year.

So Scotland now has a national test - but one that is sat by pupils at different times, and in different circumstances, with varying levels of support offered. This, of course, has consequences for how that data can be used.

The organisation responsible for delivering the tests - ACER International UK - warned in its first report on the SNSAs against using the results to make comparative judgements, given that children who undertake the tests later in the year almost always perform better.

David Leng, the Scottish government official responsible for the tests, has said that the biggest misconception about them is that they are going to be used to generate “big data for government”.

The point of the SNSAs, he says, “is that the teachers on the ground in schools get information that helps them understand pupil progress and next steps”.

But confusion reigns, of course, because we still have the Scottish National Standardised Assessments in name, if not in reality - and what are standardised assessments about, if not big data?


Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland. She tweets @emma_seith

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