There’s a lot about the Scottish Government’s policy on Standardised Assessments for Literacy and Numeracy that just doesn’t read well or add up. It never has.
That Scottish Government spending on SNSAs will be £17 million over the next 5 years despite the OECD’s clear advice that the assessments are of very limited value, is quite incomprehensible – more so when it’s claimed that funding to reduce class sizes, or to extend ASN provision, or to offer universal free school meals to all young people, just isn’t there. Even more so when it’s come to light that the company behind the SQA’s heavily discredited algorithm at the centre of the 2020 results debacle, has been awarded the SNSA delivery contract.
The flawed thinking that has characterised the SNSA policy since its inception has been highlighted to the Scottish Government time and again by the EIS but to little avail.
Since 2017, members have reported that learners have been confused, anxious and bored while sitting the assessments; that the tests take valuable time away from quality learning and teaching; that their administration has been onerously labour intensive; and that the results are of meagre worth in informing their professional judgement of children’s progress within only a very narrow range of skills for Literacy and Numeracy. For example, the Writing assessment can’t assess a child’s writing skills, only their use of spelling, punctuation and grammar. The ‘learner reports’ are found by many to be wholly unwieldy, especially when teachers are wading through the associated results data for a class of 33.
In the professional judgement of EIS members, there are much better ways to design and use assessment to support sound learning and equity.
And the matter of teacher professional judgement is a crucial one. A cornerstone principle of CfE is trust in teacher professional judgement. Similarly, in an empowered school system, the expectation as reflected in the surrounding guidance on Empowered Schools, that the Scottish Government itself co-authored, is that teachers will be fully involved in decisions relating to learning, teaching and assessment for their pupils.
Yet teachers have little to no say in whether SNSAs – a series of computerised tests – are appropriate as a method of assessment to use with the learners that they know well.
The company that has been awarded the contract for delivering the next tranche of SNSAs, assessments which are said to have been introduced in the interests of equity, created the algorithm that overturned the professional judgement of hundreds of teachers after exams were cancelled in 2020… and in so doing downgraded the results of thousands of students from working class backgrounds. This is doubly perplexing.
So is the oscillation in the political rhetoric regarding teacher agency and trust in professional judgement. On one hand, it says teacher professional judgement is to be trusted and valued; on the other, politicians know better than educationalists what assessment should look like – and feel like – for learners and their teachers.
Last year, during another huge Covid wave and while schools were closed during the post-Christmas lockdown, the EIS wrote to the Scottish Government urging that the SNSAs and associated ACEL data collection be put to one side in recognition of the challenges that schools were facing in maintaining their Covid response at the same time as trying to move forward on education recovery. Only S3 were exempted from the assessment regime in recognition of the pressure that Secondary teachers were under to deliver the Alternative Certification Model. The expectation remained that P1, P4 and P7 children sit the tests and that their teachers and support staff devote precious time to the process.
Even amidst the ravages of a global pandemic, and the appeals from the teaching profession to change tack, the Scottish Government stayed stuck on SNSAs.
In its recent review of CfE, the OECD gave unequivocal advice that the Scottish Government should change approach. SNSAs the OECD stated, lack articulation with the aims of CfE and are an unreliable data source for evaluating the impact of the curriculum on learners.
In the professional judgement of the OECD, based on a wealth and breadth of knowledge of education systems internationally, SNSAs are falling far short of the mark in supporting children’s learning with regards to the four capacities of CfE; and are incapable of providing dependable data for system-level evaluation. Yet the Scottish Government seems to have ploughed on only pausing to split hairs over ‘recommendations’ versus ‘commentary’ in the OECD report.
Even against the advice of the OECD, the Scottish Government is digging in and digging deeper into its pockets in defence of SNSAs, extending them into Gaelic Medium Education.
Knowing them to be of little educational worth, we’re left to ponder the political value that the SNSAs hold for the Scottish Government…
“…the tests take valuable time away from quality learning and teaching…”
“…teachers have little to no say in whether SNSAs – a series of computerised tests – are appropriate as a method of assessment to use with the learners that they know well.”
“SNSAs the OECD stated, lack articulation with the aims of CfE and are an unreliable data source for evaluating the impact of the curriculum on learners.”
“…SNSAs are falling far short of the mark in supporting children’s learning with regards to the four capacities of CfE; and are incapable of providing dependable data for system-level evaluation.”