Directors damn Tory test regime

Directors of education have mounted their most ferocious onslaught on Government policy since the current administration came to power, calling for policy-makers to go back to the drawing board and reconsider the way pupils are assessed.

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland's rejection of plans for testing in the first two years of secondary school is made in language equally marked by derision and goes notably beyond the criticisms voiced last week by the directors' political masters in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The response accuses the Government of ignoring research evidence, creating "a quite unacceptable mishmash" in the assessment of pupils and proposing a test system in the first two years of secondary school which is "beyond the bounds of credibility".

The absence of any costings is described as "a staggering omission" while the proposal to certificate the tests earns the soubriquet of "bizarre".

Directors clearly feel that the "mishmash" of assessment has now reached the stage where nothing short of a root-and-branch review across the whole 5-18 age-group will suffice, whichever party wins the election.

In the meantime, they say, the final two 5-14 stages should be subject to the same testing system as the rest of the programme.

The association wants a national review group to be set up involving teachers, councils, parents and employers as well as the Inspectorate. An important issue, it says, should be the amount of testing which is desirable at the different stages since there is now a danger of pupils suffering "test fatigue".

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are committed to abolishing compulsory, external tests in S1 and S2. Labour has promised to review assessment arrangements but only for pupils at these two stages.

The directors of education believe that a more significant overhaul is required, pointing out that assessment now involves the use of national tests in normal classroom work in primaries, the proposed new form of certificated national test in S1 and S2 based entirely on an external examination, Standard grade in S4 which is a combination of internal and external assessment and the Higher Still regime which will also be partly internally and partly externally assessed.

The statement condemns "the confusion caused by grading by lettered levels in 5-14, by numbers in Standard grade, and by lettered levels once again for Higher Still". Level A is the lowest 5-14 grade while it represents the top award in Higher.

The directors' wide-ranging critique of the S1-S2 proposals rehearses familiar arguments, claiming the tests are flawed and would do nothing to address concerns by HMI and ministers over stagnating pupil performance in these years.

Plans to test in reading, writing and maths would create an overemphasis on these subjects to the detriment of the rest of the curriculum. They would also send a "stark" message to primary teachers which clearly questions the quality of information passed to the secondary sector.

The directors say they welcome the right of parents to withdraw children from the tests but observe that it is "an astonishing indictment of the proposals that important assessment arrangements might be thought by significant numbers of parents to be so detrimental to their children that they may feel obliged to withhold permission for the children's participation".

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