An international education expert who took one of the controversial national assessments for Scotland’s youngest pupils today told MSPs: "I didn't find all the questions easy."
Professor Andy Hargreaves, a member of the Scottish government’s International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), also warned of a "possibility" that using the assessments as part of efforts to close the attainment gap in schools may not be successful.
But he said that the assessments are not “high-stakes”, and that Scotland is "at the front edge of the world" in its efforts to ensure that large-scale testing of pupils does not bring "negative consequences" for pupils or teachers.
Professor Hargreaves was speaking as part of an inquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee into Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs), which were introduced in 2017-18 at P1, P4, P7 and S3.
Ministers have faced repeated calls to scrap the assessments – with the P1 SNSAs causing most concern – amid claims that some children were left in tears by the assessments.
In September MSPs voted to halt the P1 SNSAs, prompting education secretary John Swinney to order an independent review while the assessments continue as planned this year.
Professor Hargreaves, of Boston College in the US and who is also a visiting professor at Ottawa and Stavanger universities, told the committee: "I actually took the P1 test yesterday. Apparently I did quite well, although I didn't find all the questions easy.”
Controversial national tests
While he said the plan for Scotland "initially was to have a high-stakes standardised test", members of the ICEA had warned this "would have all kinds of negative impacts on teaching and learning".
He said the current assessment format is "not at all high-stakes", although it is "at risk of becoming medium-stakes", which could result in schools coming under "undue pressure" to raise performance levels "over a relatively short period of time".
He said: "Five years ago, systems around the world were in denial that large-scale standardised assessments have negative consequences for students' learning and wellbeing, and also for the teaching profession responsible for them.
"I think that denial is disappearing very quickly everywhere, and so we're all starting to own the problem and say, 'How can we have large-scale information and also good support diagnostically, formatively, for teachers?'”
Professor Hargreaves said that the approach being tried by Scotland is “different”, because it would “use large-scale assessments to inform teachers' professional judgements so local authorities will have knowledge of their schools” but, at the same time, “local authorities will not be able to compare with each other on the basis of the test results”.
He added: "You are on the front edge here for the world. The world is really watching you.”