Optional fever needs antidote

25th April 2003 at 01:00
THE discomfort of your correspondent Bill Forster over the "downgrading of creativity, imaginative and expressive skills" in optional national tests (TES, April 11) is convincing.

It adds fuel to concerns about the testing fever sweeping the UK - already the "most tested nation". Media reports continue to describe its increasing domination of pupil and teacher energy, the stress induced in children of all abilities, extensive teaching to the test, even of cheating by teachers under pressure, unreliability of the results and their failure to actually "raise standards".

Why on earth, then, despite the reported desire of teachers to scrap key stage testing, are thousands of schools voluntarily subjecting their pupils in other year groups to optional tests?

I have not yet been offered a coherent explanation for why this form of testing is used unquestioningly by schools opposed to over-assessment.

Are teachers succumbing to external pressure or do they really feel that the tests are telling them something useful? Some teachers may need to collect data to support their threshold applications; does this justify the means?

The eight-year-old children I observed last year found the tests tedious.

Their inability to complete the majority of questions - and research in this area - raises serious questions about the cumulative effects of testing on self-esteem and motivation.

Is it really essential to monitor teacher assessment in this way, and is it in the educational interests of the children? Perhaps classroom work and other indicators could be used instead.

It may be time for schools to think hard about the rationale. If the idea is for pupils to practise every year for future tests, then the fever is even more deadly than it seems and an immediate antidote should be sought.

Sara Hennessy Faculty of education University of Cambridge

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