A new on-screen test in ICT skills is suffering teething problems, reports Warwick Mansell
Teachers are threatening to pull out of trials of a new national information technology test amid complaints that it fails to assess pupils in useful skills and has suffered severe technical problems.
Some staff say they have spent hours trying to sort out glitches with the computerised key stage 3 test, which is expected to be compulsory in all secondaries from 2008.
But some ICT advisers are also reporting that the trials have been relatively problem-free in many schools.
About 1,000 pupils are taking the assessment on-screen this month. The test, which is in its third year of trials, has won two awards in the past six months and is seen as the future of national testing.
It has been developed for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority by the technology firm RM and is marked entirely by computer. Pupils take two 50-minute tests which assess skills such as the ability to search the internet and use spreadsheets.
The TES online staffroom forum features more than 130 messages, mostly negative, from staff who have piloted the new test. One teacher said he was withdrawing from the tests after he and colleagues spent 65 hours trying to install it on 60 machines.
In the end, the software worked on only three computers. The teacher wrote:
"What a shame I didn't use this time to plan some really good lessons - instead of this waste of space and utter ******* software!"
Another said the school's network manager had spent three weeks trying to get the software to run.
In the past week, teachers have written about mixed experiences with the test. One said all but one of her pupils' computers had frozen during a practice, but another said they had got 160 pupils through two tests with only a handful of difficulties.
Another said: "Was it worthwhile? Don't know. Did we learn anything more about the students' ICT capability? No. Was it a lot of work? Oh yes."
Some teachers posting on the website believe the test is, in effect, an English assessment that fails to stretch brighter children but is too difficult for the less able. Others say it is a turn-off for all pupils.
Martin Ripley, who oversaw the test's development when he worked at the QCA, said schools would need two or three years to iron out technical problems before the test becomes statutory. But that was the purpose of the trial, he said.
The TES asked NAACE (formerly the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education) to canvass opinion on the test. Advisers from large authorities said that few schools had reported problems.
A spokeswoman for the National Assessment Agency said: "There are some schools which have experienced technical difficulties with this year's KS3 ICT test and we work hard with RM to resolve any technical problems.
"The test is still going through its pilot stages and we are using this opportunity to identify and resolve technical issues."