Unit tests are an unnecessary stress

14th March 2008 at 00:00
In a recent speech, Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, said her ambition was to help instil "a love of learning" throughout our education system.

It is a commendable aim, easy for us all to support. I would like to recommend a relatively simple step for pupils undertaking Higher and Intermediate courses: eliminate unit assessments, or NABs as they are better known.

We all managed quite effectively without unit assessments prior to Higher Still which, if you remember, was introduced with a ridiculous number of NAB requirements. There were six or more formal tests in some subjects, which meant, for a pupil taking five Highers, a total of 30 or more tests, five prelim exams and five final exams in the space of nine months.

It increased workloads, raised stress levels, encouraged disaffection, crushed the fun of learning and damaged the credibility of our education system.

The number of unit assessments has been reduced to an average of around three per subject, but three NABs are three tests too many.

A typical pupil in S5 still has to endure 15 unit assessments, five prelims and five external exams between September and April. Try justifying that as a pleasurable learning experience.

Less able pupils suffer the most, as usual. Their sum total of end-of-unit tests is increased by retests and further retests, consuming valuable learning time and introducing more stress.

And the tests have to be passed: pupils who achieve 100 per cent scores in the final exam will not receive awards if they have not passed the unit assessments.

NABs also encourage the awful practice of teaching to the test. If we are honest, we have to admit that when teachers download a NAB, most have a good look at the questions and then spend time making sure their teaching covers the salient points.

We have prelim exams to gauge progress, and to provide exam practice, so why the need for additional assessments for a nine-month course?

There is a need for some sort of assessment for pupils doing short, 40-hour courses, but for the many pupils doing full Higher or Intermediate courses, unit assessments are unnecessary and have no place in a progressive education system.

John Greenlees (geography teacher), Gargunnock, Stirlingshire.

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