Assessment of youngest pupils used 'unethically'

Expert says some schools are using nursery data to stream four- and five-year-olds – but controversial national tests may help

Tes Reporter

Some schools’ use of assessment with youngest pupils is ‘not ethical’

Some Scottish schools are using assessments in ways that are "not ethical", but controversial national tests might improve the situation, MSPs heard today.

The University of Strathclyde’s Professor Sue Ellis cited the use of nursery data by some schools to stream P1 pupils (aged 4 and 5).

Giving evidence on the controversial introduction of Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA), she said there is a need for "good standardised data", but also for a robust set of ethics surrounding how the data is used.

She said some schools are using standardised data for streaming pupils, while some are using formative data from nurseries to put pupils at a similar level together as they enter P1 – which "enshrines disadvantage and is not an ethical use of data".

Professor Ellis said: "Some of the uses [of both standardised and non-standardised tests] I see that are happening in schools at the moment are not ethical.

"I actually see the introduction of a national assessment as an opportunity to open that up for debate and to get a much better use of assessment, one that actually works for children and parents."

She said the national standardised tests could perhaps in years to come predict children's future learning, but that this could take 15 years.

Professor Ellis also told the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee that a "popular literacy scheme" recommends P4 children (aged 7 or 8) struggling with reading are sent to P2 for literacy lessons – a "daily walk of shame...detrimental to their health and wellbeing".

She said: "You don't set, you don't stream, you don't put children into catch-up programmes that remove them from the main body of the class and put them in a different category from other children on the basis of one snapshot."

'Perverse misrepresentation'

In 2018 a grassroots campaign against the national tests gathered momentum, and all opposition parties oppose SNSAs for P1 pupils.

Following a parliamentary vote to halt the P1 tests, education secretary John Swinney announced an independent review into the issue.

Meanwhile, renowned academic Dylan Wiliam has accused Scottish government officials of a “substantial and perverse misrepresentation” of his work after they cited it as an inspiration for SNSAs.

Lib Dem education spokesman Tavish Scott said: "This is nothing short of unbelievable.

"The Scottish government has brazenly twisted the work of an esteemed academic who adamantly opposes their national testing policy."

He said Mr Swinney must "immediately come to Parliament and apologise for this falsehood".

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We referenced Professor Wiliam as a supporter of a formative approach to assessment.

"It was not our intention to imply he supported SNSA and it is clear that he does not."

He said that the tests are designed to provide information to teachers on literacy and numeracy, and used with other evidence to help shape teaching and support judgements on children's progress.

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