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Tests revamp hit by year's delay

TEST reforms are likely to be delayed by yet another year while schools pilot online 5-14 tests which are designed to provide more reliable information on the progress of individual pupils.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, is expected to make an announcement next month following the commitment in the Labour-Liberal Democrat partnership agreement in May to scrap national tests.

Mr Peacock is likely to consult yet again on ways to improve classroom assessment and reporting to parents before finally nailing the coffin on devalued 5-14 tests.

Ministers were preparing for a start this session but plans were put on hold after Jim Wallace, the Liberal Democrat leader and now Lifelong Learning Minister, made tests an election issue. Abolishing existing tests would free a million hours for teaching and learning, Mr Wallace said in the heat of the campaign.

It is now five years since inspectors carried out a review of assessment in pre-school, primary and S1-S2, followed three years ago by a further extensive consultation.

A testing industry has grown up around the theme "Assessment is for learning", backed by 10 projects across authorities to check new approaches and charm the profession by incremental change.

Ministers say a new regime will meet their twin aims of making judgments about individual children and monitoring the overall effectiveness of the system. What are called New National Assessments, based on the Assessment of Achievement Programme (AAP), will be used to confirm progress of pupils and schools.

"Aggregation of national tests could not do that. Judgments about individual children will remain an enduring part of the system," one insider said.

The latest update on the assessment programme from the Executive, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Learning and Teaching Scotland has insisted that the online bank of tests will be used by teachers "to confirm their judgments about levels of attainment in reading, writing and maths, as before".

Meanwhile, councils are continuing to relegate the importance of 5-14 tests. Highland is set to introduce standardised tests at the end of P3, the beginning of P6 and S1 and the end of S2 following a pilot on the effects of early intervention in 56 primaries and a working party investigation into testing.

Pressure for change grew after many schools began to use their own standardised tests.

Donnie MacDonald, head of education, said more than half of Scotland's authorities were using some form of objective testing. Highland is to use NFER Nelson tests in reading and maths, which take 30 minutes to administer.

Mr MacDonald said the tests would allow teachers to track pupil progress while the authority could examine global attainment - "but not in any league table form".

Margaret Davidson, a Highland councillor, supporting the move to improved testing, told last week's education committee: "We have seen underperformance obscured for many years because of the lack of benchmarks."

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