Editorial: The case for tests

4th December 1998 at 00:00
There has been some surprise that the Education Minister chose this time, when she is still embattled with Higher Still, to announce a review of 5-14 testing. In so far as one of the problems with 5-14 is the low incidence of testing in S1 and S2, it might have been thought unwise to challenge secondary teachers while the fate of Higher Still for next session remains in the balance.

But Helen Liddell sought to make plain to the directors of education, to whom she revealed her plans (page one), that she was not seeking to add to their burdens but to make the existing tests more meaningful and reliable. If, as research in Stirling Council suggests, measurement of a child at, say, level C for reading is no accurate guide to ability, then the purpose of testing as pupils move from one level to the next is nullified. Teachers' other methods of informal assessment must also be called into question because most have claimed (or complained) that 5-14 testing merely confirmed their own views of a child's progress.

Introducing an external element to testing throughout school life - Mrs Liddell has not yet said in what form - is bound to spell the eventual end of Standard grade examinations which, at a time when most pupils stay on beyond the statutory leaving age, retain their significance only because they are the first opportunity for an external gauge of progress and performance.

With Higher Still imminent and the "ages and stages" concept of progress being undermined by the Scottish Qualifications Authority itself, the break in continuity which preparation for Standard grade exams represents ought to disappear. That would also be one way of making external testing at an earlier age more acceptable to teachers.

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