Accuracy alert on early tests

11th February 2000 at 00:00
ASSESSMENT experts at Edinburgh University have come out strongly against publication of test results for children aged three to 14.

In its response to the Scottish Executive's consultation on monitoring pupil progress at the pre-school and 5-14 stages, Edinburgh's educational assessment unit, based at Moray House Institute of Education, also argues firmly for two separate systems.

One set of assessment instruments cannot act as a check on the achievements of individual pupils and on the effectiveness of schools as a whole, the unit states.

Dr Stephen Sharp, a member of the unit, said after a conference last Friday on national developments in assessment that "developmental" and "managerial" purposes have to be separated.

"There are different areas of the curriculum, different areas of Scotland, different stages as pupils move through school. For one system to accommodate all these differences would really be a wonderful machine. I really do want to see it."

The Edinburgh unit suggests that the results of "formative assessment" which are used to support pupils' learning should be retained within the classroom. For "summative assessment", education authorities should be required to draw up their own standardised tests whose results could then be published in summary form, perhaps every other year (P1,P3,P5,P7 and S2).

Dr Sharp believes any publication of school-level data would distort the assessment because teachers would concentrate only on attainments suited to standardised testing at the expense of others of equal educational value. The arguments for openness and accountability are outweighed by the educational arguments against.

The Government has acknowledged that the present system of 3-14 assessment, using teacher judgments to place pupils at various levels ofattainment, is flawed. But its consultative paper insists that different approaches to assessment can be integrated and that external tests could be used as an additional check on the performance of schools.

The Edinburgh unit is less critical of the Government's approach to find value-added measures which would identify not only pupils who perform worse or better than expected, but pinpoint the contribution made to their progress by the school. It is not just high pupil attainment that matters but "high rate of change of pupil attainment", the unit says.

A pilot programme involving 59 primary and secondary schools has been running since 1998. It has introduced common tests designed to provide additional value-added measures based on more reliable and consistent test scores at the 5-14 stages. The project, which is a joint venture by the Scottish Executive Education Department and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, administered 13,000 pupil tests last year in reading and maths.

Schools found common tests useful in that each primary-secondary cluster was asking the same questions, Colin McLean, HM depute senior chief inspector, told the Edinburgh conference. It allowed them to compare results against teachers' 5-14 assessments.

Mr McLean also revealed that work is taking place to improve value-added measures further up the secondary school. The current system is restricted to progress made from Standard grade into Higher, based on the average each pupil scores across all Standard grade subjects.

Higher Still developments require a more sophisticated approach and progress has also to be established between 5-14 and the later stages, Mr McLean said.The key requirement was "the need for high quality data about individual pupils over time to generate norms".

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