Primary scores 'a shaky foundation'

Any kind of performance measuring in primaries has "a very shaky foundation", say two prominent researchers on assessment.

Linda Croxford of Edinburgh University and Mike Cowie of Aberdeen University argue in a forthcoming paper that data on 5-14 levels can sometimes "give a spurious impression of precision and objectivity". Tests in primary and early secondary have no reliability compared with National Qualifications and it is unfair to hold schools accountable for them. The vast majority of councils still use 5-14 tests for monitoring and accountability, they state.

Uncertainty around national tests has forced local authorities and schools to bring in other primary tests (such as Performance Indicators in Primary Tests, or PIPS) but even these may "lack validity if they are not relevant to the curriculum being used".

A further factor, the researchers say, is that introducing new forms of testing for purposes of monitoring is contrary to the conclusions of the national debate on education that parents and teachers want less assessment, especially in primary.

They point out that the Scottish Executive is moving towards formative assessment which does not provide appropriate measures for performance monitoring.

Dr Croxford told The TES Scotland that there is "such incredibly rigorous monitoring now" because the Standards in Scottish Schools Act 2000 requires local authorities to vouch for local standards. There was "tough, intelligent accountability" in the system already without having to resort to league tables of performance.

She believes that the best way to achieve higher standards is for individual schools and local authorities to share information in confidence. "The decision by Peter Peacock to stop the publication of league tables was the best thing they have done," Dr Croxford said.

Accounting for School Performance in Scottish Local Authorities. By Linda Croxford and Mike Cowie. Published in the Briefing series by the Centre for Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University.

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