Rebellion on test changes

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Scotland's largest education authority has warned Ministers not to set their face against the benefits of standardised testing. And one of the smallest has criticised the Executive for not matching its testing reform plans to its rhetoric.

In its response, notably dif-ferent from that of leading members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (TESS, December 19), Glasgow's education committee broadly welcomed the proposed reforms to the 3-14 testing regime.

But it supported the view in a paper from Richard Barron, depute director of education, that the Executive's comments on standardised testing are "unduly negative".

Its consultation document suggested that standardised testing encouraged teachers to pay a lot of attention to a few key aspects of learning and less to areas that are not so easily measured. Such tests were also criticised for not helping to improve learning.

But Glasgow comments: "There is now substantial experience of standardised testing within Glasgow, on the basis of local choice. Schools which have used standardised testing report that such materials can provide a high degree of consistency and reliability and that they can be used very effectively for diagnostic and formative purposes, as well as simply for measuring attainment.

Mr Barron urged the Executive to reconsider its attitudes and allow standardised testing. There was no inconsistency between that and the use of assessment to support learning, he commented.

Glasgow supports the planned introduction of a new Scottish Survey of Achievement to monitor the performance of 3 to 14-year-olds, replacing the 5-14 test survey. But this will be done by sampling only some pupils and the council says it needs more information on all pupils and all schools which, it believes, can be gleaned from the introduction of stand-ardised testing.

"Standardised testing can be used sensitively and effectively to support future learning," the council states.

The SNP-run Angus Council, meanwhile, approves of the Executive's aim but not necessarily of how it is trying to achieve it. In its response, from Jim Anderson, the director of education who is president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, the council takes issue with the Executive's desire to continue with centrally provided test materials, approved through a national assessment bank.

Angus supports Glasgow in demanding more school choice of testing approaches and notes: "One has to ask oneself how it is that the Executive - apparently committed to devolution - can so singularly fail to trust education authorities, headteachers or indeed the whole teaching profession.

"It is not at all clear why more freedom should not be devolved to education authorities, headteachers and teachers to devise appropriate means of assuring and improving quality." The proposed survey of achievement should be sufficient guarantor to ensure this happens.

Angus also concentrates its fire on the move to annual progress plans based on personal learning plans for every pupil. This could become excessively bureaucratic and burdensome, it argues, and having two sets of plans would be "foolhardy" if the whole point of the exercise is to free more time for teaching.

"At a time when ministers are pronouncing ever more frequently that headteachers should have ever more powers devolved to them, it beggars belief that the Executive would consider introducing the straitjacket of a national annual progress plan to be used by all schools," the council concludes.

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