Test­ing times for eval­u­a­tion of schools

The Herald - - POLITICS - AN­DREW DENHOLM

CON­CERNS over the ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing of Scot­tish ed­u­ca­tion have their roots in a com­plex mix of po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, union pres­sure and the on­go­ing ten­sion over whether test­ing is a tool for teach­ers or an ac­count­abil­ity mea­sure.

The cur­rent dilemma stems from the Scot­tish Sur­vey of Lit­er­acy and Nu­mer­acy (SSLN) which, since 2015, has shown a de­cline in stan­dards.

The drop was con­cern­ing to the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and it asked coun­cils to pro­vide more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy stan­dards un­der the Cur­ricu­lum for Ex­cel­lence.

What they got back set alarm bells ring­ing be­cause, al­though all lo­cal au­thor­i­ties were us­ing some form of stan­dard­ised as­sess­ment, these were not com­pa­ra­ble across author­ity ar­eas and so were in­ca­pable of giv­ing a na­tional picture.

When Ni­cola Stur­geon be­came First Min­is­ter she made im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion a pri­or­ity and, with grow­ing con­cern over the qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion, she an­nounced a new pro­gramme of stan­dard­ised na­tional tests for all pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S2.

It was clear Ms Stur­geon wanted bet­ter na­tional data from these tests and that she in­tended to pub­lish the in­for­ma­tion to pro­vide a trans­par­ent record of progress, even if it meant the com­pi­la­tion of school league ta­bles. With such de­tailed in­for­ma­tion avail­able on a school-byschool – and even pupilby-pupil – ba­sis the Gov­ern­ment de­cided it no longer needed the SSLN and scrapped it.

This, how­ever, was where po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion met the re­al­i­ties of de­liv­er­ing a work­able pol­icy in a cli­mate where stan­dard­ised tests are toxic for pow­er­ful teach­ing unions.

Unions ar­gue that when such tests are in­tro­duced teach­ers start coach­ing pupils to pass them and they cease to be a mea­sure of progress. Unions also don’t like how they can be used to judge the ef­fec­tive­ness of in­di­vid­ual teach­ers work­ing in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

With the Ed­u­ca­tional In­sti­tute of Scot­land threat­en­ing a boy­cott of the tests, a se­ries of be­hind-the-scenes com­pro­mises were agreed that led to a sig­nif­i­cant wa­ter­ing down of the pol­icy.

The most im­por­tant of these emerged when the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was no longer go­ing to pub­lish the re­sults of the tests, but in­stead would re­lease school-by-school data on the Cur­ricu­lum for Ex­cel­lence lev­els pupils have reached.

Cru­cially, these lev­els are based on the judg­ment of teach­ers which, while suit­able for school-level dis­cus­sions with par­ents about progress, are by their na­ture sub­jec­tive and there­fore not suit­able for na­tional bench­mark­ing.

The Gov­ern­ment hopes teach­ers will have a more con­sis­tent ap­proach to the as­sess­ments as na­tional test­ing is rolled out. But the aca­demics are clear this will still not de­liver the sort of sta­tis­ti­cally ro­bust re­sults that come from na­tional sur­veys.

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