New Scottish standardised tests ‘cannot give a valid national picture’

Local authorities reveal contrasting advice they provided about flagship programme

Henry Hepburn

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An investigation has raised doubts over whether flagship standardised assessments will provide the national overview of educational progress promised by the government.

It reveals that councils’ guidance for schools and teachers on the assessments varies markedly around the country, with some insisting they are set at specific times of year while others leave timings entirely up to schools.

One academic said such varied approaches shows that Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) are “a waste of time”. The government, however, downplayed the importance of SNSAs as a national measure of progress, saying that they are part of a much broader mix of information.

Tes Scotland used Freedom of Information legislation to ask Scotland’s 32 local authorities for any advice or guidance about SNSAs that was given in 2017 to schools, teachers and headteachers, as they prepare for the assessments of P1, P4, P7 and S3 pupils.

The replies, from 27 councils, revealed sometimes starkly contrasting approaches.

Moray, for example, will – at least initially – require year groups to take the assessments at the same time of year annually, in order to “gain an accurate picture of the ‘added value’ of progress” in pupils’ reading, writing and numeracy” and to “reduce unnecessary and prolonged workload and bureaucracy”.

Dumfries and Galloway, however, stated that “we are not indicating an assessment window as this goes against the principles of these assessments”. Glasgow, similarly, will “not be prescribing when young people should be assessed”, explaining that timings should be decided by schools and class teachers.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, said that the varied local approaches to SNSAs “cannot give a valid national picture” and that, therefore, “the whole exercise is a waste of time”.

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the “wide variation” in approaches shows “very clearly that there is no clarity over the meaning of standardised assessment”.

However, EIS teaching union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Teachers are best-placed to know which type of assessments best suit the needs of the children in their classrooms and are best-equipped to decide when to use them. It is essential that there is no pressure placed on teachers to use the SNSAs at a certain point in time.”

A government spokesman said: “Standardised assessments are only one source of information teachers have available to inform their professional judgement, alongside classwork, observation and other assessment options.

“As we have previously stated, standardised assessment results in isolation will only give a snapshot of how a child is doing – which is why we are focusing on CfE (Curriculum for Excellence) data, which will provide a much fuller and more meaningful picture of how Scotland’s education system is performing and where improvements are required.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 November edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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