‘Scant evidence' of children being upset by P1 tests

Six key concerns raised about the testing of four-year-olds in Scotland are addressed in independent review

Emma Seith

‘Scant evidence of children being upset’ by P1 tests

Today, the Scottish government published the independent review of the controversial P1 literacy and numeracy tests. The review – led by David Reedy, former co-director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and past president of the United Kingdom Literacy Association – rejects some key concerns about the tests, such as children becoming distressed.

It also finds that “a majority of teachers and headteachers see the value of the P1 SNSA (Scottish National Standardised Assessments) to support professional judgements about learning, teaching and assessment”.

However, the review calls on the Scottish government to make “a clear and irrefutable statement of the purpose and uses of P1 SNSA data” because “questions remain about the purpose for collecting P1 SNSA data”.

Here, we look at the key concerns highlighted by educationalists and what the review had to say:

Children sitting the tests 'were in tears and distressed'

The review finds “scant evidence of children becoming upset when taking the P1 SNSA”. However, it adds that “there is evidence that the context for the assessments, including headteachers’ and teachers’ attitudes, makes a difference to children’s assurance when undertaking the P1 SNSA”. It also says that, rather than there being evidence of children becoming “upset and tearful”, there is “rather more” evidence that children became “tired and bored”, particularly whilst taking the P1 literacy SNSA. It recommends that the option of stopping should be “re-emphasised” if a child becomes tired, bored or upset. The review, which included observations of 26 children undertaking the tests, says: “None of them showed any distress and indeed, in some cases, showed great perseverance.”

Testing campaign: 'Scrap "cruel" testing of five-year-olds’

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Tests 'took too long and drained teachers’ time'

The review does find that the length of the P1 literacy SNSA is a cause for concern. It calls into question “whether the results obtained for some children are reliable”, because children were clicking any answer, or guessing. It finds that some children took up to 50 minutes to complete the assessment; in comparison, the numeracy assessment took up to 30 minutes. The review recommends that the number of items in the P1 literacy test be reduced, and that local authorities support schools that are struggling "in managing the technology and timing of administering the P1 SNSA".

P1 children 'lacked the IT skills for online tests'

The review says that “teachers are often not aware of children’s funds of knowledge about digital technology drawn from home”. However, it goes on to acknowledge that “children do not have equal access to digital technology” and it is therefore important that “the use of technology for assessment is accompanied by classroom teaching in the uses of screen-based reading and composing”.

Teachers 'did not find the information produced by the tests useful'

The review finds that “a majority of teachers and headteachers see the value of the P1 SNSA to support professional judgements about learning, teaching and assessment”. It adds that a minority “expressed negative views” but suggests that was because they had not received training. The report says: “Training is an issue; of those who expressed negative views of the P1 SNSA, the majority had not received any training.” It also highlights, however, that heads and teachers reported that the literacy assessment “did not fit the benchmarks for early level” and recommends that experienced P1 practitioners should be involved “in the question development process in order to give feedback on the appropriate level of difficulty, particularly in the P1 literacy SNSA”.

The tests 'could be used to create league tables'

The review acknowledges that there are concerns that the test data could be used in this way and says “there should be strong safeguards against any drift towards the use of the P1 SNSA data for high-stakes or accountability purposes”. It also stresses that the Scottish government needs to develop a code of practice “clearly stating what SNSA data in P1 should productively be used for and what it should not”. However, it stresses that “the review has not found any evidence that benchmarks or P1 SNSA data are currently being used to set targets, make comparisons between schools, including league tables, or for teacher appraisal, nor that there are any plans to do so”. It says that the fact that there is flexibility in the timing of administering the P1 SNSA guards “against information being aggregated to compare school performance”.

P1 testing 'isn't compatible with a play-based curriculum'

The review states “there need not be any disparity between a play-based approach and P1 SNSAs”. It quotes the University of Edinburgh’s Professor Lindsay Paterson, who said that an assessment that took 45 minutes a year was “not likely to interfere with a play-based approach to learning and teaching”. The review concludes: “There is no necessary disjunction between assessment and a play-based pedagogy. Some organisations and individuals are fundamentally opposed in principle to children undergoing formal schooling before the age of 7, but discussion of this issue of principle is beyond the scope of this review.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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