National tests a `waste of time'

Harvey McGavin

National testing is a waste of time and money, and a poor gauge of pupils' ability, according to a major survey of teachers' opinions.

The Real Cost of Standard Assessment Tests, a 51-page report by the London Association for the Teaching of English (LATE), reveals the views of teachers who have implemented testing across a range of ages and schools.

The tests are also criticised for damaging morale among staff and pupils, threatening standards of achievement and failing to assess the national curriculum. LATE is calling for the introduction of testing in conjunction with teacher assessment, and the replacement of crude league tables by a more sensitive mechanism. The report also implicitly criticises Labour for its support for testing, backed by value-added league tables.

"The challenge for Opposition education politicians is to engage in a genuine dialogue with the teaching profession on how statutory testing and assessment can start to play a part in raising standards rather than getting in the way of teaching," it says.

Criticisms of tests at key stages 1 and 2 included insufficient time, disruption of mixed-year groups, and the tests being of little educational value. Some teachers reported that children found the experience stressful, complaining of feeling "bogged down", "exhausted", and in one case, walking out in tears.

Secondary-school teachers were equally unimpressed with English tests at key stage 3, with an almost unanimous call for the tests to be scrapped. Less able pupils, and those with reading difficulties, or English as a second language, were disadvantaged. Some feared that cramming and testing were replacing teaching, and complained that tests were dictating the curriculum.

Others complained that marking was unrepresentative, inaccurate and inconsistent - one examiner reportedly phoned a teacher to ask what Julius Caesar "was about".

"The results were ludicrous," said a head of department in a Croydon school. "Really able pupils were given 2 out of 10 alongside pupils who could neither punctuate nor write fluently or coherently." Science and maths teachers were similarly disenchanted.

"It cannot be right for this Government to waste Pounds 35 million on tests that teachers consider useless, while schools are suffering from larger classes and cuts in resources," said John Wilks, chairman of LATE.

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