National standardised assessments ‘a shambles’

23rd March 2018 at 00:00
Regime criticised for spiralling costs, pupil stress and not closing attainment gap

The new national standardised assessment regime in Scotland will cost £3.4 million to deliver this year, exceeding original estimates by more than a million pounds – and costing more than three times the amount councils used to spend on standardised tests annually.

A Tes Scotland investigation has also revealed that the tests have cost a total of £1.2 million to develop, meaning the bill for the literacy and numeracy assessments will hit at least £4.6 million by the end of the school year in July. The true cost will be higher because the total excludes an additional 20 per cent for value-added tax.

Before the introduction of the national approach, Scottish councils spent more than £1 million on standardised assessment, a figure revealed by a Tes Scotland survey of 27 of the country’s 32 local authorities in 2015 (“Scotland’s £1 million plus bill for primary tests”, 12 June 2015).

The costs revealed today have been attacked by opposition politicians and the EIS teaching union, which says teachers “retain serious reservations regarding the educational value of National Standardised Assessments”.

Meanwhile, a primary headteacher says that the P1 tests are too difficult, caused the five-year-olds in her primary school anxiety and stress, and took a month to complete because children needed one-on-one support.

Concerns have also been raised about whether schools have the computers to deliver the tests. Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer says that funds raised by parents at a school in his constituency had been used to buy devices for pupils to use to sit the tests.

'Dogged by delays'

The new national assessments in literacy and numeracy are being introduced this year for pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3. When the tender for the contract to deliver the tests went out, it estimated the cost would be £10 million over five years. Now, the government is saying the cost of the contract is expected to be “around £9 million over three years”. But the figures uncovered by Tes Scotland reveal half of that budget has already been spent.

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray says the government’s standardised assessments have been “a shambles from beginning to end”.

He adds: “They have been dogged by delays and ambiguity about their purpose, structure, statistical validity and whether results will be published. Now we see that the costs have escalated yet again. The sad fact is that these millions of pounds will do nothing to close the attainment gap, since testing will only describe the problem we already know exits. This is an ill-thought-out policy that is now being badly delivered at a very high cost.”

Greer is calling on the government to “think again” when it comes to standardised assessment. He says that under-resourced teachers in understaffed schools will find it frustrating to see millions spent on a “clearly inappropriate” assessment system.

He continues: “This figure will not even include the hidden costs of introducing the assessments. I spoke to a school PTA recently who had to fundraise to purchase the devices their school needed to actually carry out the assessments, a clearly farcical situation for essential equipment.”


An EIS spokesman says: “Teachers across Scotland retain serious reservations regarding the educational value of National Standardised Assessments, so the news that they are costing even more than anticipated will do nothing to assuage these concerns. While the EIS offers full support to initiatives aiming to tackle the impact of poverty on pupil attainment, we remain to be convinced of any particular value that NSAs will bring to the learning experience of pupils in our schools.”

Professor Gordon Stobart, an assessment expert based in England, predicted in 2015 that four things would happen if Scotland introduced national assessments – one of them was that they would be expensive.

A senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Educational Assessment and emeritus professor at the UCL Institute of Education in London, Stobart also said that the tests would become an accountability measure, the curriculum would narrow and schools would try to play the system.

Commenting this week on the figures obtained by Tes Scotland, he says: “There will be lots of promises about what can be done at what price – you get the contract by bidding low – but as soon as you get going there will be bits added. It’s a bit like when you have building work done – you suddenly find other things need doing as well and the costs begin to rise.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman says that the cost of this contract “is expected to be around £9 million over three years”. She adds: “Scottish National Standardised Assessments were successfully rolled out to schools on time and within this budget – and we have robust processes in place to keep a tight rein on activity, costs and risks to secure the best value we can for the taxpayer.”


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