Standardised tests have some use, but only up to a point and only with children old enough to adapt to them. I would use them on two occasions in primary: at Year 3 and Year 5.
The tests would be of English (essentially reading, since speaking, listening and writing are too hard to assess by such tests), mathematics and thinking. The three subject tests would take place in consecutive weeks. The test would be scored by an agency outside the school and the results fed back to teachers, children and parents.
In addition, children should take computer-based adaptive item-banked tests of reading and mathematics. The minimum requirement would be that they were taken once in each year, but being item-banked they could be taken more often if anyone wished.
Teachers should be required to assess the performance of each child subjectively on two occasions during each year. The requirement to do this on two occasions is an onerous one, so the nature of assessment should be brief on each occasion.
The first assessment should be done around mid-term in the first term, and focus on what the teacher hopes to achieve with that child during the rest of the year. Specific objectives should be set.
The second assessment should be done at the end of the year and assess to what extent the objectives were met and whether there were any other growth or decline points that were unexpected.
I would consider adding forms of peer assessment in Years 3-6, but this would be for immediate gain, rather than any summative purpose.
I would completely do away with current national curriculum assessments, which are antiquated, unreliable and a waste of time.
Keith Topping is professor of educational and social research at the University of Dundee
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