The Scottish government will not have statistically reliable information about pupil performance in literacy and numeracy until the coming academic year at the earliest, MSPs have been told.
It will then be at least 2022 before three years' worth of comparable data is available on the government’s “key measure" of literacy and numeracy attainment – the teacher judgements about whether pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 are reaching the expected level for their age and stage.
This means Scotland is facing a five-year data hole, given that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) was published for the last time in 2017.
The SSLN was the sample survey used to track pupil performance in literacy and numeracy since 2011, before the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) data was introduced.
Experts such as Louise Hayward, professor of curriculum assessment and pedagogy at the University of Glasgow, warned in Tes Scotland in 2016 that it would take years for the new data to bed in.
MSPs are now questioning how the SNP would know whether the millions of pounds being invested in the Scottish Attainment Challenge was making a difference to pupils from deprived backgrounds.
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The revelations came to light this morning when education secretary John Swinney gave evidence to the inquiry led by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee into the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs).
The SNSAs, which were run for the first time in 2017-18, are supposed to be used by teachers to inform their judgements about whether or not pupils are achieving the expected level for Curriculum for Excellence. These judgements are then collected and published annually – the so-called ACEL data.
This year, the data showed about a third of primary pupils were not reaching the expected literacy level for their age and stage.
However, “a gap” in the government’s information had been created by scrapping SSLN before ACEL was embedded, said committee deputy convener and Labour MSP Johann Lamont.
The ACEL data – which has been published annually since 2016 – is currently branded "data under development" and there are warnings attached to the figures that "caution should be applied", particularly when it comes to making comparisons with the results from previous years.
Ms Lamont argued that the government should have considered continuing the SSLN for a “transition period” because, while it was “not perfect”, it would at least have given “information in the meantime”.
Mr Swinney told the committee that he expected the ACEL data to be deemed sufficiently rigorous by 2019-20 (the coming school year). However, he stressed that this was only his expectation and the final decision would rest with statisticians.
Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said it would therefore be “three, four, five years” from then that “we can assess what has changed”.
Mr Swinney said the government published a range of information through the National Improvement Framework, so it was able to ascertain “a comprehensive picture” of the progress that was being made.
However, Mr Swinney also said that the ACEL data was introduced to satisfy the “deficit in data” in Scottish education identified in 2015 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and that a key priority of the NIF was to improve attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy.
Until pupils start sitting national qualifications in senior secondary, Tes Scotland understands, the government has no other means of monitoring literacy and numeracy attainment nationally, other than the ACEL data.