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Handling questions with care

TEST YOUR CHILD - science english and maths at key stage 1 and 2 Six CD-Roms for multimedia Windows PC, Pounds 14.99 each including VAT and postage 10 out of 10 Educational Systems Troydale Mills, Troydale Lane Leeds LS28 9LD, Tel: 0113 2394627.

Do you really know how well your child is doing at school? Well it asks you on the box of each of these CD-Roms, and I suppose it would be crazy not to care. Inside each is a computer-based test which works out a child's national curriculum "scores". It breaks the result down into attainment levels, takes the child's age into account and then shows it on a helpful bar display. It can print a report and, if the child has done the test before, give a measure of progress.

There's a disc for each subject and each key stage, six titles using multiple-choice questions. The box says that the tests have been "tested and approved by teachers and educational advisers". It would be unfair to say that a few questions are ambiguous, because that's true of any test written by anyone. For example, under English, you are asked which hand-written word is correct when three out of four look fine.

For the tests on younger children, you will have to read out the question, maybe re-phrase it, and then read each of the four answers. With about 60 questions, you'll have to take breaks or endure a long, unpleasant experience. The result is a score sheet which the box suggests will allow a parent to take action. But I wonder what that is?

When a child gets a poor result, which is not the same as a teacher delivering a school report, some parents will despair. In the wrong hands, the software is dangerous and were it a medicine it would be available only on prescription.

Something good could come of this if it helped parents to understand why there has been, for example, unhappiness about national curriculum testing. Parents might also become more aware of what their children are taught and what they're assessed on. But there are better ways to find that out. This is as wise as Teach Yourself Brain Surgery.

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