Be open about how the rise and fall of standards is calculated

24th October 1997 at 01:00
I agree with David Hawker (letters, October 10), that conclusions about national standards in reading and mathematics cannot be drawn from a study of five schools in one local authority as the Manchester research claimed (TES, October 3).

There is, however, much firmer evidence from international studies in the 1990s. These have shown that, in mathematics, there are strengths in some areas and weakness in others.

This type of important detail is hidden in the reporting of performance in national tests and examinations which only provide an overall view of mathematics.

I also agree with Mr Hawker, who is head of curriculum and assessment for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, that hard-working schools and teachers must not be belittled.

However, I do not believe this means that we must accept without question the QCA's insistence that standards are beginning to improve.

On the contrary, it means that the QCA owes it to schools and teachers to be more open about methods in the attempt to ensure that assessment standards are consistent year-on-year, and also how they work out in practice on each testing occasion.

A problem for QCA in convincing the public at large that better- looking results in national tests means that attainment standards have improved is that the methods it uses to establish that the results are based on consistent assessment standards are largely invisible to the public.

It is not sufficient to claim that pre-testing is robust for there are a number of aspects of test construction which can influence question difficulty.

The details should be known and subjected to independent scrutiny. This is particularly important as the issue of standards in education is so politicised that the Government has staked its reputation on achieving challenging targets by 2002.

The QCA must be seen not to make this task too easy - or too hard - to achieve.

DEREK FOXMAN

Education consultant 59 Minster Road Cricklewood London NW2

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