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Plan for optional tests at nine

Nine-year-olds could face optional tests in English, maths and science in future, following a comprehensive review of national testing and assessment published last week, writes Diane Hofkins.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority is to investigate and consult on how children's progress should be followed during key stage 2, which spans the years from seven to 11.

With fewer than half of 11-year-olds achieving national targets on the first round of key stage 2 tests in English and maths, concerns about the education of this age group have been heightened.

"Some teachers have suggested that, in order to track children's progress across the four years more effectively, there could perhaps be more formal assessment half-way through the key stage," says SCAA's report to the Secretary of State.

They will consider whether to provide advice about assessment in the mid-point of the key stage, or whether there should be optional tests or assessment activities for use in Year 4. However, they point to "potential workload implications" of such a move.

Changes announced last week which will affect assessment in 1997 also include the introduction of a non-calculator maths paper for 14-year-olds and development of standardised test scores in tests for seven-year-olds.

These could be used to provide age-related or some other type of numerical score in reading and maths, in addition to the broad national curriculum levels. Curriculum advisers will also investigate using such standardised scores for 11- and 14-year-olds.

A non-calculator maths paper is already being introduced for 11-year-olds in this year's tests. Eleven and 14-year-olds may be tested on their ability to do mental arithmetic in future years, The review of assessment and testing was launched a year ago by Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, as one of the steps taken by the Government to induce teachers to carry out the 1995 tests following the previous year's boycott.

Under proposals accepted by Mrs Shephard, primary children's test results in reading, writing and spelling will be reported separately, rather than being conglomerated as "English". This has already been done for seven-year-olds.

SCAA will also consult teachers on whether classroom-based tasks for the least able pupils at key stages 2 and 3 should be made optional.

These have been seen by many teachers as time consuming, and providing little new information.

After consultation, extension papers for the most able pupils may also be abolished. They are little used and exceptionally high ability can be recognised through teachers' own assessments, says the report.

However, Mrs Shephard expressed doubts about this proposal. "I shall discontinue extension papers only if SCAA can devise another way of recognising exceptional performance," she said.

The report emphasises that teacher assessments and written tests should have equal status in reports to parents.

It also stresses that results of key stage 2 tests should not be used by secondary schools in selecting pupils.

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