Report Warns Of National Testing Risks

8 December 2015, 08:51

Controversial plans to introduce national testing in Scottish primary schools could have a damaging impact on the teaching of some subjects, a new report has warned.

The Commission for School Reform, which was set up by think tank Reform Scotland, said ministers should consider widening the scope of the tests, which will focus on the key skills of literacy and numeracy.

While its report said it had "no objection in principle to a national standardised assessment'', it added there were "significant risks'' which must be addressed.

From 2017 onwards, standardised assessments are to be brought in for pupils in primaries one, four and seven as well as for youngsters in the third year of secondary school.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move as part of her bid to close the attainment gap in Scottish schools.

Such a move will allow "valuable information'' about pupil performance to be collected, which can be monitored at a national level and can help inform the development of education policy, the report said.

But the commission, which was chaired by former education director Keir Bloomer, raised concerns the assessments could lead to the return of school league tables.

The report said: "Such league tables will not provide information that will add to useful knowledge about educational performance.

"They will show that pupils in schools serving affluent areas achieve on average higher levels of performance than those in schools in deprived areas. This is already common knowledge.

"There are serious risks that schools will feel obliged (or will be compelled by their local authorities) to take all possible steps to improve league-table standing.

"If this were to happen, it is almost inevitable that more time will be spent on the subjects to be tested and on instructing pupils in test techniques. The consequence would be learning that is narrow and shallow.''

It continued: "Whether or not results are published, this is likely to lead to some narrowing of the curriculum. Other curricular areas - some of which, such as science and languages, are already struggling - will be further marginalised.

"If this problem is not addressed, an unintended consequence of introducing a national assessment could be to place the broad and liberal education envisaged by Curriculum for Excellence in danger.''

The commission also raised concerns about schools' capacity to administer the new assessments "due to shortcomings in their IT systems because the assessments may only be available only online''.

The report said: "The commission broadly welcomes the Government's proposals but considers that they raise a number of causes of legitimate concern.

"Many of these centre on the operation of the proposed standardised assessment and ways in which its results may be misused.

"It is vitally important that these are seriously addressed before the National Improvement Framework comes into operation.''

Mr Bloomer, who played a key role in the development for the Curriculum for Excellence reforms, said: "The Scottish Government is setting out to improve standards and that is admirable. However, it needs to exercise care with how its proposed assessment is used.

"The commission supports much of what is proposed and has no objection in principle to the proposed National Standardised Assessment.

"However, it is a mistake to suggest that the assessment will provide much information of direct benefit to parents and teachers.

"The Government should continue with its drive to introduce the assessment but it should change its emphasis to the gathering of local authority and national data as opposed to individual data.

"Scotland is failing to improve educational outcomes at the rate of other countries and it is that serious problem which the data gathered from the new assessment should be used to alleviate. This would help realise the Government's objective of raising standards for all.''

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The National Improvement Framework will draw in a range of information to help us improve attainment and close the attainment gap.

"For the first time, all schools will be using the same assessments tailored to Curriculum for Excellence.

"The assessments will inform teacher judgement and give parents meaningful information about their child's progress at key points. They will be used by teachers in the classroom alongside other assessment evidence.

"This Government has absolutely no intention of creating school league tables or of returning to the high-stakes testing regime of old.''