More clarity needed on the purpose of standardised assessments for Scottish pupils
A Holyrood committee examining standardised assessments in schools has ruled that clearer direction on their purpose is needed.
The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee has been exploring the evidence for the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs), which are undertaken by school pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3.
The committee took evidence on the introduction and purpose of the assessments, as well as analysing the value of the information produced to inform teacher judgment and policy makers.
It also explored the time taken to administer assessments by teachers and other school staff; what information parents will be given on a child’s results; the impact of the assessments, if any, on ICT in schools; whether local authority standardised assessments will be replaced by the national assessments as intended by the Scottish Government; and the overall cost of the assessment policy.
The role the assessments played in reducing the attainment gap was also looked at, with the committee noting that the Scottish Government’s decision to discontinue the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) will mean there is a gap of a few years where data is unavailable to monitor progress.
The committee expressed concern that there appeared to be differing views amongst stakeholders regarding the original purpose of the assessments and whether this has evolved since their introduction. It also heard differing evidence as to whether the SNSAs can fulfil the dual purpose of informing teaching practice and benchmark pupil performance.
The committee is now asking the Scottish Government to give clearer guidance as to the role of the assessments as well as reassuring parents, pupils and indeed teachers, that the SNSAs are not high stakes – something underlined by the confusion over the purpose.
Committee convener Clare Adamson MSP said: “There has been a lot of media and political attention regarding the introduction of SNSA and our committee agreed to undertake an inquiry on the evidence base for their introduction as well as exploring why the decision was taken to move away from the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.
“We also wanted to explore international comparisons to understand similar and differing approaches used elsewhere.
“We heard differing evidence from stakeholders as to their understanding of the purpose and reason for introduction and have asked the government to clarify their intended use in Scottish education.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott said that the new report “paves the way” for SNSAs to be scrapped.
He said: “This report shows that there was no evidence for the imposition of testing in Scotland’s youngest school children.
“The assessments were poorly thought through and badly implemented. This all-party report paves the way for primary tests to be scrapped altogether.
“The Scottish Government should have used teacher experience to inform their education policy to begin with. Instead, ministers created policies to match their speeches. The effect of their policy was an afterthought to that most dangerous political approach - the need to be seen to be doing something.
“The least the government can do at this point is listen to teachers and scrap these assessments.”