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Peacock ushers in new era for tests

The end of the current regime of 5-14 tests was in sight this week as the Scottish Executive finally acknowledged that the approach to assessment over the past decade has been significantly flawed.

But, launching a consultation paper on assessment yesterday (Thursday), the Education Minister said there would be no move away from the monitoring of pupil performance as "an enduring part of the system".

Peter Peacock accepted, however, that the present system had become a classroom burden which did not fully support learning and was not "robust" enough to monitor national standards.

As widely predicted, the proposed system will take a twin-track approach: there will be a new Scottish Survey of Achievement (SSA) to sample the performance of 5-14s nationally, replacing the Assessment of Achievement Programme and the annual 5-14 survey. Testing of individual pupils will be done through an electronic assessment bank which teachers have been able to download from this session.

There will be a link between the two since the test items will be materials that have been used in the national survey which makes them of assured quality.

"Teachers will be able to compare the performance of pupils in their own class with the performance of a national sample, helping them to understand national standards better," the consultation paper states.

The plans also involve the replacement of 5-14 reports for parents with "annual progress plans" which will set out out learning needs for the following year as well as summarise past performance.

The Scottish Survey of Achievement is intended to operate from 2004-05. It will involve a larger sample than the 5 per cent of pupils who take part in the AAP at P3, P5, P7 and S2. This will allow reliable information to be provided for each authority as well as nationally.

The SSA will stick to the four-year cycle of reporting, although there is a suggestion that English and mathematics could be sampled more regularly.

The consultation paper argues that "a four-year gap between subject surveys allows real changes and trends to be picked up. Year-on-year changes are unlikely to be statistically significant."

The paper discusses the option of ending the central provision of materials for national testing, but it is clear there is little enthusiasm. The use of test items from the national assessment bank is seen as having more advantages, including extending testing to science, the social subjects, modern languages and core skills.

Despite the change, however, the present approach would continue of teachers testing pupils when they judge they are ready to move on to the next level; the six 5-14 levels of A-F would remain.

The testing plans are not surprising. Ministers pledged to reduce the assessment workload in their response to the national education debate and this was beefed up in Labour's coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats which committed the Executive to end 5-14 tests.

Jim Wallace, Deputy First Minister, claimed this would free a million hours for teaching.

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