Single-level tests favour the able, says official evaluation

8th October 2010 at 01:00
Children with SEN fare badly in Sats alternative

Experimental "single-level tests" - being piloted as a potential replacement for Sats - favour the cleverest pupils and could have a negative effect on those with special educational needs (SEN), a Government evaluation has found.

The tests, which will be used to compile this year's league tables for up to 225 primaries, led to better monitoring of individual progress which had a positive impact on "most" pupils, according to the Department for Education-commissioned research.

But the study, by PricewaterhouseCoopers, concluded the monitoring was "particularly" positive for "more able and motivated pupils".

It also found that around 10 per cent of staff responding from schools piloting the tests thought there was "the potential to negatively impact pupils with SEN or those who may be less confident in a test situation".

The study did not give teachers the opportunity to say why they thought this was the case. But the researchers speculated that it could be because the tests - designed to measure a single national curriculum level and to be taken when pupils are ready - may mean SEN pupils are not entered alongside their peers or may be entered at a lower level.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "This reinforces the point that single-level testing would not be a useful addition to the system. We don't want something that helps the advantaged even more at the expense of the disadvantaged. We want something that is of equal value to every child."

Single-level tests (SLTs) were first proposed by the last Labour government to relieve pressure on teachers and pupils as ministers sought to address disaffection over Sats.

The evaluation, published last week, found that the decision to use maths SLTs for league tables led to schools taking "greater risks" for Year 6 pupils - entering borderline pupils for higher level tests than they might otherwise have done.

It also led to an increase in the proportion of schools investing time in revision and preparation for the tests.

Ministers cancelled a 201011 extension to the pilot scheme last month in a decision welcomed by teaching unions who said SLTs had merely encouraged teaching to the test and a narrowing of the curriculum. But they will still be considered as an option under the Government's forthcoming review of national curriculum assessment.

The evaluation said most schools in the pilot felt SLTs had contributed to a broader and more balanced curriculum, particularly in Year 6.

This was because they freed up class time allowing more of the curriculum to be covered, more evaluation of teacher assessment and more effective "personalisation" of the curriculum to suit pupil needs.

More teachers reported they "prepared" pupils for SLTs than those who said they helped pupils revise for them. Focus groups suggested that pupils were "less stressed" sitting SLTs compared to Sats.


Life after Sats

- Single- level tests (SLTs) were first mooted by Labour ministers in 2007 as a way of countering many of the problems associated with Sats.

- They are designed to measure a single national curriculum level and to be taken when pupils are considered ready.

- Maths SLT results will be used in league tables for primaries in the pilot for the first time this year.

- A 201011 extension to the pilot scheme was cancelled last month.

- They will remain an option under the Government's forthcoming review of national curriculum assessment.

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