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Tests could be made more useful

Provided that the national tests can operate with a sufficient degree of reliability," says a report from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, "the crucial issue to resolve is how they might provide more useful information."

Many teachers may feel the tests have been over-used to provide information already, or that that opening proviso constitutes a very big If indeed, but SCAA has got a few ideas it plans to investigate.

In its review of assessment and testing published last week, the authority argues that since national curriculum tests are based on a broader range of curriculum contexts, "this can make them a more reliable indicator of overall performance in a subject than most standardised tests."

One possibility is to convert pupils' raw marks, used to determine what national curriculum level they are at, into standardised scores, "either with or without adjustments for age."

This would give more fine tuned information about children's relative performance, and could also help answer complaints that the younger children in a year group do worse on the tests, since they currently take no account of age.

The report says these scores could be useful when children transfer to secondary school.

Two thirds of infant teachers questioned welcomed the idea, and SCAA now plans to produce standardised scores from the 1996 tests in reading comprehension and maths, as well as a simpler version from the spelling tests.

The second type of information which can be given to schools is a detailed breakdown of pupils' performance on individual test items. Teachers felt this would help them diagnose children's weaknesses. SCAA will be carrying out a pilot exercise in 1996 with the key stage 3 mathematics and science tests.

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