Standardised testing controversy rumbles on as questions surround use of data, reports James McEnaney
THE Scottish Government plans to gather and analyse the data generated by new national standardised tests despite a senior official insisting that this information should not be centrally collected “because it would not be comparable”.
Under the government’s controversial plans, all pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 will be expected to sit standardised tests in reading, writing and numeracy, with the information provided by the assessments “informing” teachers’ judgement of their pupils’ progress. It had been believed that standardised test data would not be collected, collated, or published, but it can now be revealed that the government intends to gather this data directly from the assessment provider.
However, at a conference on The Future of Education Data in Scotland last month, Audrey MacDougall – the Scottish Government’s chief researcher and head of education analytical services – warned against such a move. She highlighted the fact that the tests will be completed at different times by different students, meaning that attempts to gather assessment data for the purposes of producing reports “just wouldn’t make sense”.
“[Standardised test data] is not information that will be gathered in, because it would not be comparable.” Audrey MacDougall
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government has confirmed that the tests will not be completed at the same time for all students, and that “teachers will decide the appropriate time within the school year for individual pupils to sit the assessments, to best inform them of children’s progress and plan individual children’s future learning”. Official procurement documents for the new testing system also make clear that the tests will be used “once a year at any point” and that “no timetable for assessments will be centrally mandated”.
Speaking alongside MacDougall at the conference, Mick Wilson, head of schools analysis for the Scottish Government, also said that the test results can not be used to “produce a national figure or a set of comparable figures for local authorities or for schools or for any other grouping”, pointing out the “limitations that the system is going to have, from a data perspective”.
But despite clear warnings from top officials that standardised test results will not be suitable for overall comparisons the government is still planning to gather, analyse and compare this data.
Test results can not be used to “produce a national figure or a set of comparable figures for local authorities or for schools or for any other grouping”, according to Mick Wilson, head of schools analysis for the Scottish Government
A government spokesperson confirmed: “The Scottish Government will have the ability to receive, from the assessment provider, a full dataset of the results of the assessments at pupil level for each school year.
“The Scottish Government will use any information gathered through the National Improvement Framework for improvement purposes.”
The tendering documents for the new system clearly outline plans to produce “high level” reports for “group, class, school, cluster and local authority levels”. These reports will provide the government with data including raw test results, standardised scores, the age of the pupil when they sat the test and a range of specific identifiers such as a child’s gender, their ‘looked after’ status and the local authority in which they are educated. The government plans to use this information to carry out “analysis by pupil characteristics”, ignoring the advice of their own officials.
The revelations have provoked criticism from parties on both sides of the testing debate.
Scottish Green Party education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “The Scottish Greens were never in favour of standardised testing, we argued that it would take time away from teachers actually teaching. Now that it appears the data generated from the tests can’t be used for report purposes, this unpopular policy looks to be entirely without a purpose.”
That criticism was echoed by Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray MSP: “Since he became education secretary, John Swinney has repeatedly claimed that the national standardised assessments will allow data comparisons between schools, local authorities and years.
“Now we find the officials who have designed the assessments flatly contradicting him, saying that data will not be collated because to do so would be meaningless.
“This shambles is supposed to be the Scottish Government’s flagship reform in schools. It would appear that the first minister and the education secretary do not understand their own policy, or they are prepared to wilfully misrepresent it. Either is unacceptable.”
“Now that it appears the data generated from the tests can’t be used for report purposes, this unpopular policy looks to be entirely without a purpose.” Ross Greer MSP
Liz Smith MSP of the Scottish Conservatives – who strongly support the introduction of standardised assessments but want to see far more data being made public – described the government as “all over the place on testing” and criticised the first minister for “failing to publish all the relevant details despite making a firm promise that this transparency is essential in order to measure how well schools are doing and to detect specific problems”.
Tavish Scott MSP, education spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “A senior government civil servant is stating the obvious. National school tests so beloved of SNP ministers cannot be compared on a school-by-school basis. Ministers now need to make clear their position. Do they accept the professional advice of their own experts or do they impose national testing on school children as young as 5?”
James McEnaney is a college lecturer and opinion columnist for CommonSpace who has written extensively in opposition to the introduction of standardised testing.
Picture courtesy of cybrarian77
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