By Dougie Atkinson, Senior Professional Officer (Scotland)
3 October 2018 + updates 2018, 2019
National Standardised Assessments have been hitting the headlines again, after opposition MSPs recently defeated the Scottish government in a vote calling on ministers to "halt" national Primary 1 (P1) assessments for five-year-old pupils. The motion is not binding on the Government, but Education Secretary John Swinney said he would "reflect" on the defeat. He has since announced an independent review into the use of standardised assessments for P1 children (25 October 2018). (Call for views, January 2019.)
(Recommendations/review report, 18 April 2019.) (Standardised assessments in Primary 1 should continue, the independent review concluded, 11 June 2019."P1 assessments to continue with 'important modifications'" (BBC Scotland). Read the ministerial statement and the review reports.)
SNSA and National Improvement Framework
The Scottish Government introduced new standard testing at set stages for school children in P1, P4, P7 and S3 from last Autumn.
They are expected to complete online standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy as part of everyday learning and teaching. These assessments are designed to identify children’s progress, providing diagnostic information to support teachers' professional judgement. The assessments are as inclusive as possible to accommodate the needs of children and young people who require additional support.
There is no pass or fail and children and young people do not have to revise or prepare for these assessments. The Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) have been introduced as part of the National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education to provide teachers with objective, comparable information about progress, which will help improve outcomes for all children and young people.
Concerns have been expressed by teachers, parents and others about the wisdom of subjecting children as young as four or five to national testing. Other trade unions have demanded that testing at that age should be scrapped.
The Scottish Government argues that there is widespread recognition that children’s early development and their progress during the first year of school are crucial for their later success, and that schools find this information useful to ensure the right support is in place to secure good outcomes for children and plan for future learning. Scottish Government claims the SNSAs have been designed to be easily used by P1 children, including an online narrator.
A recent poll found that more than one-third of Scottish parents thought primary schools mishandled the introduction of the controversial new tests that left some pupils distressed. The survey showed only seven per cent of respondents thought the introduction of standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy for pupils in P1 was “well handled”. Sixty per cent had a “negative” view of the tests, with more than one-third overall having a very “negative view” of the process. The social media poll of more than 364 parents across the country by parent body Connect found one-third thought that, in general, the tests had been handled well, but they would have liked more information.
The poll added pressure on the Scottish Government to scrap the P1 literacy and numeracy assessments, which some teachers said had left some pupils “shaking and crying”. Hundreds of complaints about the tests have also been submitted by teachers.
However, standardised testing for five-year-olds will continue despite the calls for it to be scrapped, the Scottish Government has confirmed. Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced some changes to the controversial tests at all levels, including a re-wording of the questions for primary one pupils “to ensure a more familiar context”.
John Swinney said a practitioner forum of teachers and professional groups would look at all aspects of the P1 assessments to improve the experience for children, while pupils and teachers will have more opportunity to provide feedback on the tests at other assessment stages.
Mr Swinney said children had found the assessments to be "accessible and stimulating" and teachers had been pleased with the information they provided, but he added:
"I have listened to the range of feedback and changes this year should further improve the experience for learners and provide extra reassurance to teachers and parents."
For P1 pupils, these changes include:
- removing questions which have caused "particular issues";
- replacing them with questions of similar difficulty, but with a more familiar context; and
- re-designing questions to reduce the need for drag-and-drop.
He also said training and advice for teachers would be improved, and children undertaking the assessments asked for feedback.
John Swinney wrote an open letter to parents of P1 children to reassure them.
Voice will continue to listen carefully to its members to ensure that they are comfortable with what they are expected to do by way of assessment.
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