Testing times

19th January 2007 at 00:00
I read with interest your article on proposed changes to key-stage testing (TES, January 12) and feel the cited "reasons for change" need to be addressed. First, no schools, departments or teachers who are confident and of integrity are likely to give disproportionate resources, including attention, solely to students who are perceived to be "borderline", whether level 5 at KS3 or grade C at GCSE.

Where teachers are forced into that position, it is usually because of the undue profile of high-stakes assessment imposed on them by the Department for Education and Skills. That pressure is exacerbated where individuals, departments or schools perceive themselves to be tagged "underperforming"

in some way.

The DfES is responsible for many of the perceived inequities of the present system, with supplementary funding available to boost performance at high-profile boundaries, but not for low-achieving students who are at risk of starting adult life functionally innumerate, or for high-achieving students who, with extra encouragement and resources, might begin to address our chronic shortage of home-grown graduate maths skills. The Study Plus programme is the latest in a long line of funding targeted at politically high-profile groups.

As to using external assessments for formative purposes, that might be possible if the turnaround were shorter than the present two months, as in the case of KS3 tests. At present, one of the frustrations of these well-written tests is the limit - because of this time lag - of their usefulness for future teaching and learning. In contrast, internal assessments can be used formatively from the next lesson and are therefore more constructive.

As is so often the case, these proposals appear to contain the seeds of constructive changes. Now they need to be developed, properly trialled and reflected upon, with full and meaningful consultation with the professionals who deliver them.

Jennie Golding

Chair of teaching committee, Mathematical Association, and head of maths and AST,Dorset

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