I start this look at the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) with statement above from John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, made when he announced the contract for our new standardised testing had been awarded to ACER International UK, Ltd. This organisation is a subsidiary of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), whom have been responsible for the development of the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) regime of high-stakes testing in the Australian system since 2008. I also believe they were one of a very short list of providers who tendered a bid for this contract.
I was drawn to this statement as I reflected on many of the responses I have received after I put out a request on Twitter asking for people to get in touch about their experiences with the new standardised tests as they are introduced across our schools. I sit on the board of Connect (formerly the Scottish Parents and Teachers Council) and the issue of the new tests had been raised at a recent board meeting. I said I would gather more information for Connect, so that we were able to offer advice to parents on the new testing regime, and hopefully allay some of their fears.
What quickly emerged was a very mixed picture in how the tests were being used across Scotland, but there was a commonality in the types of experiences children, teachers and schools were having, and it very much flew in the face of Mr Swinney's assurances given at the outset of their development.
'regarding SNSAs…Where do I start? I have had 3 children I have spent all year working with to build self-worth and self-belief, comment that they are ‘no good’, ‘useless’ and then cry. I have had one child who decided to guess most of the numeracy questions, and got them correct! (Lies, damned lies and statistics!) Most frustratingly, I am a class teacher administering the tests in class using 2 ipads and a desk top. Class of 27=81 tests. Huge impact on learning and teaching as you can imagine. With so many children suffering from low self-esteem and an increase in mental health issues, why is this happening? I truly despair.’
This was a response from a primary school class teacher, one of many who got in touch, expressing their concern with not only the impact on learners, the learning going on in their classrooms whilst testing was taking place, and the implications for their workload. I had a number of similar responses from teachers, school leaders and members of senior management teams.
This, from another class teacher, backed up what many colleagues were saying about the impacts for learners and teachers, as well as wider school, workloads. This was the first response that also started to query wider system issues of the new testing, such as the cost, the appropriateness of the content and the emotional impact on very young learners. One or two indicated that they felt most of their children weren't unduly stressed by the tests, they were able to present them in a fun way as a quiz or some other way, but they still queried some of the content, the usefulness of the outcomes and the disruption and impact being caused for teachers, children and schools.
‘Highlights of the P1 SNSA reading test included a passage on hummingbirds! Hummingbirds??? Vocabulary included hover and perch (and backwards). It also included a question asking what an alternative word for ‘beak’ was. So testing general knowledge then? It is impossible to do with a class of P1. SMT now doing individually, with all 70 plus P1s!!! Aaarghhh!!’
was a reflection of some of the frustrations felt by one headteacher. She went on to add,
Does the categorising learners as 'Low' 'Medium' and 'High' promote setting, labelling and further disadvantage?