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National tests call reopens old wounds

AUTHORITIES and unions could be heading for a renewed clash over national testing for primary children if ministers heed the advice of some Labour councils and back the use of externally marked standardised tests in English, mathematics and science.

East Renfrewshire, often regarded as a model new Labour authority, is advising ministers that more "robust" tests should be carried out at four stages of primary and once in S2 to transform benchmarking data and provide reliable information for teachers and parents.

But the Educational Institute of Scotland has again warned it will oppose compulsory external tests, as it did successfully in the early 1990s when a joint campaign with parents thwarted the ambitions of Michael Forsyth, the then education minister, for standardised testing in P4 and P7.

The compromise, after mass demonstrations, was confirmatory national tests, used by teachers when they feel pupils have reached a 5-14 attainment level. Many Labour authorities now say these produce unreliable and invalid information which is of little use as a value-added measure to track pupil progress from early primary onwards.

Unflinching in its opposition, the EIS cautions: "A different style of national testing, one which provides information about the performance of all pupils at selected stages at a fixed point in a range of subjects, is not considered by the EIS as beneficial to pupils. The idea of yearly compulsory external tests in the primary school is unacceptable to teachers and parents." P> In its reply to the national consultation on pre-school and 5-14 assessment, the EIS adds: "We are not convinced that teaching and learning is improved by national testing; indeed there is evidence that it causes skewing of the curriculum. We have very grave reservations about any extension to other curricular areas."

It argues for a separate consultation on external assessment in 5-14. The union does not deny there are "some fundamental problems with assessment, recording and reporting" in primaries but insists internal strategies are most effective.

However, East Renfrewshire, the first authority to run a more systematic programme of testing, using material from south of the border, is now pressing the Scottish Executive to back uniform tests across the country.

The council has already published test results in maths, reading and spelling in P3, P5, P7 and S2 and says it has broad support among teachers and parents.

John Wilson, head of quality development, stated: "No change is not an option. Fundamentally, we should now move to the introduction of externally set and marked tests which which are set for the core areas of the curriculum at key transition points during compulsory education for pupils."

In a paper approved by councillors last week, Mr Wilson said it was essential the new education Bill should be underpinned by "a robust national assessment system". But tests must be "manageable, externally administered and allow for moderation and monitoring to take place".

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