Parents and teachers are opposing attempts to monitor educational achievement with a one-off test in key subjects because they fear it will lead to identification of successful and failing schools, as in the UK.
The test, in science, maths and Italian, was piloted last year in selected schools for pupils aged six, eight and 11. This year the test is compulsory for all pupils. But teachers are unfamiliar with the rigorous procedures for administering it, and suspicious about the uses to which the results will be put. At least one teachers' union, COBAS, has invited its members to boycott them, while some schools are refusing to administer the tests.
Part of the problem is the type of test, in which children use tick boxes to answer multiple-choice and similar "closed" questions such as matching and sequencing. Teachers complain that the test stifles creativity, and cite an example in which children have to match a spoon with an appropriate "container". Most of them chose a cup, but one child said he chose a boot "just to have a laugh".
According to the Rome daily La Repubblica, parents and teachers are also worried that children do not have enough time to complete the three parts of the test, and that teachers are not allowed to help their pupils in any way.
But the main concern is about the tests' purpose. They are a product of the National Institute for the Evaluation of the School System, an independent organisation created in 1999 with the express purpose of "evaluating the productivity and efficiency of the educational system and individual schools".
The fear is that the results of the test will be used to identify successful and failing schools, following the practice in other European countries, especially the UK, and to help make decisions about allocating funds. One headteacher in Genova said: "The lack of democracy with which decisions are made is appalling."
The ministry has invited inspectors to visit schools on test days to make sure that they are properly administered.