Letters Extra: Accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive

We have heard a great deal over recent months about high-stakes testing and little of it positive - stories of impending tests dominating pupil and teacher energy and inducing stress in children throughout the ability range, extensive practising for and teaching to the test, even of cheating by teachers under pressure, unreliabilityof the results and their reported failure to actually "raise standards" in literacy and numeracy, etc.

Clearly the nation is suffering badly from league table disease and testing fever. At a time when the majority of primary teachers are apparently in favour of scrapping KS1 and KS2 testing altogether, it seems extraordinary that significant numbers of primary schools are increasing our rating as the "most tested nation" by volunteering their pupils in other year groups to undergo the optional QCA tests.

At my year 3 daughter's school, the curriculum was disrupted once again as children were subjected to a week of formal tests. Despite the exam conditions imposed, no warning was given in case pupils worried about the tests. Although no children appeared stressed by this experience, they found them boring and tedious. Many were unable to complete the majority of questions successfully, raising questions about the cumulative effect of testing on self-esteem (see also "Constant examining demotivates low achievers" in TES 28 June 2002 p.16).

What is the rationale for this phenomenon and why is it unquestionly being perpetuated by schools (like my daughter's) in theory opposed to over-assessment? Are schools succumbing to external presure or do teachers really feel that the tests are telling them something new and useful? Of course, some techers may need to collect data to support their threshold applications, though the notion of payment by results is itself controversial. (If the idea is in fact for pupils to practice for future tests, then the situation has clearly got right out of hand.)

Is it really essential to monitor the results of teacher assesssment like this, and is it in the longer term educational interests of the children? Perhaps classroom work and other indicators could be used instead. Or, if there are compelling underlying reasons, is there perhaps scope for the tests to be spaced out, administrered informally as part of the normal classroom work, ie, to be used formatively, inducing minimal stress and disruption?

Sara Hennessy,nbsp;Grantchester, Cambridge

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