Scotland’s largest teachers’ union threatens industrial action over data gathered by standardised testing
THE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SCOTLAND (EIS), Scotland’s largest teachers’ union, has said it may sanction any Scottish council that attempts to publish data from individual schools gathered by new national standardised tests.
EIS also warned that its members may disrupt the tests themselves if such data collection is attempted by councils, who would be breaking nationally agreed guidelines on how such tests should be administered.
“All the work we have done with the Scottish Government is in danger of being undone by some councils.” EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan
While the Scottish Government has no plans to use data from standardised testing to create league tables, there may be sufficient information available to councils for some local authorities to produce them regardless, which could lead to individual schools and teachers being judged in a semi-official league table system.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “All the work we have done with the Scottish Government is in danger of being undone by some councils.
“The government has responded to our concerns by developing guidelines around the tests, but some councils seem determined that all pupils are assessed in a single window at the end of the school year, and some may publish the results leading the league tables being produced.”
“One of the biggest concerns right from the off about imposing a new standardised testing system was that it would lead to a league table culture.” Education expert James McEnaney
When the Scottish Government first announced the new standardised tests – under which pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 will be assessed in reading, writing and mathematics – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon initially indicated that the results would be public, and thus open to collation into league tables.
However, education secretary John Swinney later backtracked from this, saying individual scores would not be collected, nor would individual schools’ results be published.
Speaking to CommonSpace, Scottish education policy expert James McEnaney, who has been researching the Scottish Government’s proposed education reforms for the past two years, said: “One of the biggest concerns right from the off about imposing a new standardised testing system was that it would lead to a league table culture that would do vastly more harm than it ever could do good.
“The EIS are absolutely right to challenge that wherever it occurs, especially when the national government has already been forced to back down about the publication of test data. Now, it looks like the way councils operate things is going to lead to the same outcome, which is schools being measured by attainment data that’s been gathered by standardised tests done at all different times of the year, under different circumstances, and not even done by all pupils.
“Somebody else is going to FOI Glasgow City Council and say, ‘we want to see the aggregated test scores for all schools in Glasgow’.” Education expert James McEnaney
McEnaney was sceptical, however, or whether threatened industrial action by EIS could prevent this. “I don’t really think there’s any way around it. The government have not only been forced to back down from publishing all this data, they’ve been also forced to explicitly say – in press statements and in an FOI response to me – that the government will only have access to national-level data.
“But that’s because the tender documents make explicit reference to a very wide range of data that’s going to be collected as part of these tests. And it’s not just feedback for teachers about how the students have done. It’s standardised, nationally aggregated test scores. That information isn’t, it seems, going to be gathered by the Scottish Government, but they definitely have the ability to receive that information, which concerns me.
“However, if councils are gathering that data, it’s hard to see how it isn’t going to end up in the public domain. Somebody else is going to FOI Glasgow City Council and say, ‘we want to see the aggregated test scores for all schools in Glasgow’, and I don’t think there’s an FOI exemption that’ll let them refuse it. If somebody like me can get this kind of stuff, there are full-time journalists all over Scotland who’ll be able to get this stuff.
“That’s why part of the issue isn’t just necessarily the tests themselves, problematic as they are – it’s the data infrastructure behind the tests. The Government keeps on saying these tests are intended to generate information to allow teachers to help their pupils. And if that were the case, that’s all they’d be designed to do. They’ve been designed to generate varying levels of data specifically for comparative analysis.
“Even if the national government is saying ‘We’re only going to gather national data’, the tests they’ve designed and paid for are, by their very nature, going to generate huge amounts of data, and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t lead to league tables.
McEnaney continued: “The EIS should have been a lot more robust, and a lot of their members were. But ultimately, the EIS has always given the impression that it’s open to doing a deal on having a test system imposed.”
Picture courtesy of Xavi
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