New School Results in England Show Students Were Drilled to Pass Tests

Primary school results just published in England provide an interesting insight on how standardised tests used for school accountability lead to inflated test scores and mislead about the school quality and progress in student learning.

Science results have slumped to their lowest level for more than a decade after school league tables in the subject were scrapped.

According to the Daily Mail [11 August], education experts believe this year’s lower grades are a truer reflection of students’ ability in the subject because they are no longer being ‘taught to the test’. They say that the grades are proof national test results in science had been artificially inflated for years.

The results of standardised tests for 11 year-olds in English, maths and science have been used in previous years to produce primary school league tables. However, this year students were assessed by teachers in science while a sample of five per cent sat the test. The switch to teacher assessment for science meant that only maths and English results will be used for league tables.

The results show a stark contrast between the science and English and mathematics which statisticians suggest reflects different stakes now attached to science as a result of a switch to teacher assessment. The percentage reaching the expected level in the sample science test was down to 81% from 88% on last year’s test score. In contrast, the results in English and maths showed a slight rise in the proportion of those reaching the expected level for their age.

Department for Education statisticians admitted that the drop in science could be due to the sample tests not being linked to school league tables. The sample tests play no part in school accountability.

Professor Alan Smithers, from the University of Buckingham, said:

This shows the difference that you get between when there is pressure on schools and when there isn’t. The apparent improvement in recent years is illusory as it looks as if we were getting a more accurate picture in 1999, before all the pressure was put on schools.

Assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, Sion Humphreys, said the fact that the high stakes nature of science tests had been removed this year meant that they would have been treated differently by schools. He said:

It may well have been the case that given the fact that high stakes testing remained in English and maths that schools concentrated their efforts on these subjects.

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