Tests debate hots up

14th September 2001 at 01:00
England loosens age and stage regime as McConnell weighs his options Scotland and England may after all be moving closer on national testing - but the change of tack is coming equally from south of the border.

As Jack McConnell, Education Minister, prepares to strengthen 5-14 testing, his counterparts in England are exploring the Scottish option of testing when ready. Able pupils in particular are being encouraged to press ahead.

The new dimension is automatic marking and scanning to reduce teacher workload and ease the burdens and costs of the highly structured tests, normally taken in one week during the summer term.

The exams watchdog, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, has reviewed assessment in the national curriculum and is keen to introduce new technologies as soon as possible. Its advisers believe SATs (standardised assessment tests) have had little impact on classroom performance.

Mr McConnell is expected to make a statement on testing before the end of the month, three years after the initial consultation on 3-14 assessment. He wants to cut the burden on teachers and the volume of assessment and recording.

More focused tests, such as those in the Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP), are likely to be introduced to give a clearer picture of performance at class and school level and of national standards across the country. But teachers will still be able to test when they want.

Evidence gathered by Her Majesty's Inspectors showed assessment as part of teaching to be good or better in just over half of all primaries and that assessment was an action point in more than 70 per cent of inspections. In many schools, there was a surprising lack of correlation between reported attainment and other indicators, a point confirmed by AAP results.

May Ferries, a leading Educational Institute of Scotland primary teacher, said any move to streamline tests was good news. "If they are genuinely trying to help by, for example, making it one test per level and introducing external marking, I am sure that would be welcomed," Mrs Ferries said.

But teachers would be likely to oppose any move to annual tests or an extension from English and mathematics to science.

Linda Croxford, the Edinburgh University researcher who was involved in analysing Aberdeen's work on standardised testing through the externally marked PIPS programme, said stronger measures were long overdue. "National testing in 5-14 has been very unsatisfactory up till now. You cannot look at levels of children and compare them across classes, schools and councils," Dr Croxford said.

Dr Croxford believes that there would be far less opposition to a more rigorous programme if there was no public release of information in league tables that would allow naming and shaming.

"It has got to be for self-evaluation and improving performance," she said.

ASSESSMENT BY NUMBERS At the heart of the plan south of the border is online testing-when-ready, with children assessed over the year rather than the end of a key stage. Tests will be chosen from a large bank. Critics, however, fear that computerised assessment may be even cruder than the pen and paper tests teachers and parents are familiar with.

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