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Tests fail the teachers' test

THERE are indeed lessons to be learnt from the comparison between the national curriculum test results and those from Durham University's Performance Indicators in Primary Schools Project (PIPS) (TES, May 10) but they aren't lessons that either test developers (or the Government) want to hear.

The main lesson to be learnt is that tests, whoever devises them, are very fallible instruments which cannot provide reliable, valid "measures" of children's performance in the enormously complex areas of literacy and numeracy.

Nor can they be used as "measures" by which the performance of schools nationally can be assessed and ranked.

They are not "measures" at all. The idea of "measurement" presupposes a degree of accuracy, precision and objectivity which is totally out of place when appraising something as subtle and wide-ranging as children's attainments in writing or mathematics.

The word "appraising" is the key. Tests can provide some information, some very limited probe into children's understanding, but they provide extremely limited, inevitably very partial data.

They are no substitute for, though they may well inform, the professional judgments of teachers who know how their children perform in a wide variety of contexts beyond the stressful circumstances of formal testing and can appraise their achievements.

Although there have been considerable improvements in teachers' ability to assess children's performance since the introduction of the national assessments arrangements, we need to get still better at appraising, not testing or measuring, their attainments.

We should outlaw the concept of "measurement".

We should also be extremely wary of the claims of either the Department for Education and Skills or PIPs. In my judgment and that of thousands of teachers their tests have been tested and found wanting.

Professor Colin Richards

1 Bobbin Mill

Spark Bridge

Cumbria

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