Pressure on schools to boost league-table performance risks undermining pupils' learning, says an international study.
Teachers often feel compelled to "teach to the test" at the expense of children's long-term education, said a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It called for teachers and schools to be judged on a wider range of measures including students' motivation and their ability to work in group.
Tests should reward problem-solving and analytical ability in order to discourage teachers from engaging in the "drill and kill" exercises used to ensure pupils recall factual information.
Formative assessment: improving learning in secondary classrooms, examined how assessment is used to improve school performance in eight countries, including England and Scotland. It draws a distinction between formative assessment, which involves teachers' regularly testing pupils' knowledge to inform future teaching, and summative testing, designed to give a snapshot of knowledge.
The former "offers a powerful means for meeting goals for high-performance, high-equity of student outcomes, and for providing students with knowledge and skills for lifelong learning," the report said. But it warned: "Too often highly visible summative tests used to hold schools accountable for student achievement drive what happens in classrooms."
In England, the Government has promoted formative assessment, dubbed assessment for learning, by issuing guidance to schools, providing teaching materials and by making it part of the key stage 3 strategy.
In his annual report this week, David Bell, the chief inspector, said that the quality of assessment "continues to be the weakest aspect of teaching".
The OECD report is dedicated to the late Caroline St John-Brooks, a former editor of The TES, who worked for the organisation between 1994 and 1996.
SIX STEPS TO FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT
* Establish a classroom culture that encourages interaction and the use of assessment tools
* Establish learning goals and track individual progress towards them
* Use varied instruction methods to meet diverse student needs
* Use varied approaches to assess student understanding
* Give feedback on student performance and adapt instruction to meet individual needs
* Actively involve students in the learning process