Time for a debate on 'when ready' tests

4th April 2008 at 01:00
As representatives of our local authority, we have cautiously welcomed some aspects of the Making Good Progress pilot. But recent discussions with advisory colleagues, primary heads and teachers have raised significant concerns about the proposed single-level or "when ready" tests. We want to be reassured that the pilot will genuinely address the following:

- How will the results help children to progress? If the tests are marked externally, the turnaround time is likely to be several weeks. Also, it is unclear whether scripts will be returned. Under these circumstances, the possibility of using test information formatively seems limited.

- How can "teaching to the test" be avoided? Anecdotal evidence and our observations suggest that Year 6 teachers feel under considerable pressure to devote time to practise tests, and to focus their teaching on enabling children to "jump through the hoops". There is a danger of replicating this at Years 3, 4 and 5.

- What status will teachers' own assessments have if the test results are published and used for value-added judgements? We promote the assessing pupils' progress (APP) materials to strengthen teachers' subject knowledge and assessment skills. How can we ensure that the focus on testing does not detract from this?

- What measures would avoid the bureaucratic hinterland? Key stage tests have costly mechanisms to ensure security, proper administration and special arrangements (eg, additional time allowances). If twice-yearly tests become the norm, how will these be managed?

Finally, we are concerned that the potential for enhancing parental partnerships through APP will be sidelined because of unhelpful parental pressure on children to pass the tests.

We are keen to engage in a wider debate. We think the APP approach offers the possibility of strengthening teacher assessment, without the distraction of frequent test practice. Most of all, the system must help children to "enjoy and achieve" to the best of their abilities.

Valmai Wainhouse County inspector (assessment); Matthew Haynes County inspectoradviser (English); Wendy Hoskin County inspectoradviser (maths); Trevor Walker Senior inspectoradviser (primary), Hampshire.

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