Sugaring the pill of revamped national tests?

Tes Editorial

It is difficult to see how 5-14 national testing can be combined with the Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP), as apparently envisaged by the Education Minister, Jack McConnell.

AAP is a research programme conducted by research teams appointed by the Scottish Executive. It uses a random sample of pupils across Scotland to track long-term trends in pupil achievement in reading, writing and mathematics. Schools and classes are not identified in any way, far less pupils. This non-identification made the AAP acceptable to teacher unions and parent bodies.

Although it is an excellent research instrument, the AAP does not measure the performance of individual schools or individual pupils and is irrelevant to the improvements in assessment and reporting to parents that Mr McConnell referred to in his parliamentary statement.

The researchers will regard a "cut-off" score of 60 per cent as confirmation that the pupil has reached whatever target level of the 5-14 programme strands is being tested. The results are fed anonymously into the national research.

As for the class teacher, it is his or her judgment that decides which level Jane Smith is at. If she passes at, say, level D, this is fed into the school's national test results. If Jane fails, then the teacher's judgment was wrong; she will test the pupil again later in the session, or she might test at level C. If Jane was in fact capable of passing the test at level E, this will never see the light of day. So an able pupil could, in effect, be penalised by a faulty teacher judgment and the process is a long way from being objective and reliable, as the work by Stirling Council has shown.

Any attempt to combine such diametrically opposed methodologies is therefore fraught. A better system of national testing may well emerge from the proposed action group, but it will be amended national testing, not an amended AAP. There must be a suspicion that the references to the AAP are designed to sugar the pill of redesigned national tests.

Fred Forrester Glenbervie Grove, Dunfermline

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