The Government seems to be getting into an almighty mess over testing. As our front- page story reports today, scores in the new trial assessments have turned out to be unexpectedly low. Correspondence obtained by The TES under the Freedom of Information Act reveals a somewhat confusing picture of pupils being entered before they are ready and of many children failing to complete the test.
It is important to keep some perspective on this. These are the first results of a two-year trial. There is still time to get this new version of Sats right. Indeed, it is vital that we do so. Single-level tests are a way of moving towards diagnostic assessment by teachers and a step back from what one delegate attending the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference (see page 14) described as the "unholy trinity of targets, tables and tests".
The problem is that as long as the new tests remain hooked up to the two other members of the trinity, there is every sign that schools and teachers will treat them in the same way as the old tests. Children will continue to be drilled to ensure targets are met. Everyone, it seems, agrees that the primary curriculum and associated testing regime are too prescriptive. Beverley Hughes, the schools minister, has now acknowledged that the balance has gone too far and has asked her Mr Fix-it, Sir Jim Rose, to find a solution. One place to start looking is Wales, where top juniors have a much less scary view of Sats (see page 4).
One thing relatively easy to fix is key stage 3, where there is every reason to cut the link between tests and tables. Instead of publishing tables, schools should simply be required to give a full report to parents and to set challenging targets as part of their school development plan. Secondary schools would remain accountable through GCSE, A-levels and, in future, diplomas.
Finding a solution at key stage 2 will be much harder because it remains the principal output measure for primary schools. But the Government needs to do something urgently. The influential Commons select committee on children, schools and families is likely soon to publish a report condemning high-stakes testing. On Monday, BBC's Panorama will give its own verdict in "Tested to Destruction". Ministers should hope this does not become their own epitaph.