Profound concerns have emerged that new standardised assessments are harming the youngest pupils in Scotland’s primary schools. The introduction of the first raft of tests has also sparked fears about schools’ ability to administer them and the usefulness of the data they produce.
Education writer and former primary school headteacher George Gilchrist has been gathering the views of teachers and other education staff as they experience the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) for the first time, and has shared these exclusively with Tes Scotland.
Mr Gilchrist said: “It may be easy to dismiss some of these issues as teething problems. But some of them are more fundamental and bring into question the whole testing regime and its purpose.” Many complaints have centred on testing in P1, with a number of respondents warning pupils have become upset.
One teacher said: “My opinion is that all the planned primary tests are at best unnecessary and possibly detrimental, but the P1 test seems to be actively harmful and a phenomenal drain on resources to no obvious benefit to the learners.”
Child's 'lip was trembling'
Another teacher told of a pupil whose “eyes filled with tears” when they were taken away by an unfamiliar supply teacher into a little-used room to sit one of the assessments. Another teacher stopped a test with a P1 “when I saw her wee lip trembling”.
There have also been physical difficulties in implementing the tests – P1 children are finding it hard to drag and drop with a mouse, for example – at all levels of the assessments, which are also sat by P4, P7 and S3 pupils. The Scottish government admits it had to send out advice on disabling a spellchecking function, after pupils were able to use it to identify the correct answer for a small number of P4, P7 and S3 writing questions.
Gilchrist, a fellow of the Scottish College for Educational Leadership, will compile the dozens of responses he has received into a report for Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council).
He said that, besides the issues around P1 testing, other common concerns include: teachers’ time being “swallowed up”; the varied way the assessments are being administered, making them “anything but standardised”; and scepticism over whether the assessments will tell teachers anything new about learners.
However, there have also been some more positive comments. One support-for-learning teacher said that, having told pupils the assessments were quizzes and simply to do their best, none had been stressed by the SNSAs. A class teacher, meanwhile, said analysis of SNSAs sat locally by P7s in October had helped to establish the appropriate level of study for some pupils.
Connect executive director Eileen Prior said her organisation, which represents parents, does not agree with national standardised assessments, particularly for P1s, adding that “putting pressure on four- and five-year-olds to sit a test is a sure way to kill their enthusiasm for learning”.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “P1 assessments are used by teachers to identify whether children would benefit from additional support – they are age-appropriate, there is no pass or fail, and teachers have complete flexibility over how and when they are delivered. From the feedback we have already received, it is clear children have found the assessments interesting and easy to do.”
This is an edited version of an article in the 25 May edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.