National tests must stick to standards

14th June 1996 at 01:00
As someone who has recently left the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to work with a local education authority, I am worried by what is going on behind the scenes with regard to the end-of-key-stage tests.

One of the ways of raising expectations and achievement is through schools setting performance targets: for example, 80 per cent of pupils should achieve level 3or more in science at the end of key stage 2. At the end of the period they can evaluate the extent to which those targets have been met.

Critical to the process of target-setting are first, explicitly stated, clearly understood and secure standards; second, valid, reliable and efficient ways of measuring performance against those standards.

National curriculum standards are explicitly stated in the level descriptions and their understanding is helped through SCAA's exemplification materials. In end-of-key-stage tests the demand of questions is calibrated against that indicated by the level descriptions and SCAA has been able to pre-set the test score-level relationship before the tests are taken by pupils. In this way the test standards reflect the national standards. Changes in the distribution of awarded levels can thus be attributed to changes in pupil performance.

It is disappointing to hear that this year SCAA has decided to re-examine the test score-level relationship after a number of test scripts have been marked. One can only assume that the authority has lost confidence in its ability to use the standards it was responsible for writing. If it is going to adjust the test score-level relationship in the light of performance data, then it must have in mind what a "correct" distribution of levels is. For example, should there be 20 per cent of pupils at level 5 at key stage 2?

What concerns me most is that end-of-key-stage tests will no longer provide reliable information on changing patterns of performance in individual schools, and that this undermines the efforts of schools to raise expectations by target-setting.

PETER LACEY Senior adviser North East Lincolnshire Council Eleanor Street, Grimsby

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