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Constant examining demotivates low-achievers

NATIONAL tests kill pupils' motivation and exaggerate gaps between high and low achievers, say leading assessment experts.

Their long-awaited review of research into the effects of testing is published this week - two weeks before thousands of schools receive their national test results. It adds to a growing bank of evidence questioning the value of the tests, which will cost more than pound;33 million in 2002.

The review found that "high-stakes" testing, such as for grammar school entry or national curriculum tests, failed to provide accurate information.

This was because teaching to the test meant that students were trained to answer questions but lacked skills or understanding, often merely regurgitating facts.

Repeated test practice meant students knew how they would do. Lower-achievers were then likely to stop trying and even answer randomly because they thought they would fail anyway. As a consequence, test scores were unreliable.

The report was commissioned by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information (EPPI) and Co-ordinating Centre, set up by the Government two years ago to review research findings. It said: "Students' judgments about being smart or stupid were inexorably made on the basis of test results. Many knew their fate beforehand and ceased to strive against the inevitable, writing themselves off..."

The review of evidence, carried out by the Assessment and Learning Research Synthesis Group, looked at 19 studies, mostly from the US and the UK, including research on Northern Ireland's 11-plus.

One study revealed that after national tests were introduced, struggling pupils had lower self-esteem than high scorers. Beforehand there had been no correlation between self-esteem and achievement.

A study of Texas, President George Bush's state, said: "Behind the rhetoric of rising test scores is a growing set of classroom practices in which test preparation is usurping a regular education."

The testing and exam industry in England has mushroomed with the average pupil now sitting 105 tests between the ages of 4 and 19. But opposition to the testing culture is also growing. A TES survey earlier this year found most teachers wanted to scrap tests for seven and 11-year-olds.

The EPPI-centre report recommends that pupils be tested only when teachers judge them to be ready, as happens in Scotland. Examples of students' work should be used to track national standards and targets should be based on a range of indicators, not just test results.

An article on EPPI Centre reviews will appear in Briefing on July 12

Ted Wragg, 72

Details of research at http:eppi.ioe.ac.uk

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