Have you seen this letter from Ed balls on school tests?

21 Jul 2008

I have pasted below the full text of the letter sent by Ed Balls to the Commons Select Committee Chairman, Barry Sheerman. It is worth reading in full for what it says about a) the fiasco about school test marking and b) about the future direction for testing.

 Note that some form of tests are here to stay. But the government is open to changes.

Also note that ministers are keeping the whole business with ETS at arm's length -- you can understand why! Only 71% of the KS3 English test results are currently ready.




Dear Barry



Further to last week’s Select Committee hearing, at which I announced the terms of reference of the Sutherland inquiry, I am writing to update you further on developments in relation to National Curriculum testing and the delivery of 2008 Key Stage Two and Three tests.



As I said when I appeared before your committee last week, our first priority has been to ensure that schools receive their 2008 results in an orderly way with the minimum of delay. I am advised that 98 per cent of Key Stage Two results are now available to schools online, as well as 85 per cent of Key Stage Three results - 93 per cent of maths results, 91 per cent of science results and 71 per cent of English results.



I share the frustration and anger of teachers, children and parents about the delays in the release of test results. Whilst the large majority of test papers have now been marked and results released to schools, I am concerned that schools should get outstanding results as soon as possible.



In a statement issued over the weekend, the QCA have confirmed that they are in discussions with ETS Europe following the unacceptable delays in delivering this year's National Curriculum test results. In that statement, the QCA say that it is considering all available options to allow the timely conclusion of the work for the 2008 test series, and to secure a successful 2009 programme. I attach a copy of the QCA statement.



The contract with ETS Europe was drawn up and has been managed by QCA, at arms length from Ministers, to ensure the independence and objectivity of the testing regime. Any discussions about the contract are legally a contractual matter for the QCA and ETS Europe. At this stage, I believe it is very important and in the public interest that the QCA should be able to conclude these discussions in a timely and orderly fashion in order to safeguard the interests of pupils, schools and taxpayers.



At the same time, Ofqual, the independent regulator of qualifications, exams and tests in England, have assured me that they continue to monitor the quality of the marking of the tests, will consider the evidence in relation to any problems that are brought to its attention, and will act accordingly.



I am determined that we learn the lessons of this year’s experience, and I am confident that Lord Sutherland’s independent inquiry will be of great value in this regard. The independent inquiry will look at all the issues surrounding the test delays, including the specification and procurement of the contract with ETS.



Both the work of Ofqual and the Sutherland inquiry are designed to secure public confidence that the system is being appropriately regulated and scrutinised at arms length from the government, and I hope they will be useful to the Committee’s own activities.



As I said to the Committee last week, I welcome your recent report on testing and assessment, to which we have responded in writing, and I look forward to discussing this in more detail after the summer. I welcome your support for the principle of externally assessed national tests. We do not want to return to the past situation where school accountability was weak, parents lacked good information about their child’s progress, and as a result many children fell behind in their education and development.



At the same time, as I said to the Committee last week, the current testing and assessment regime is not set in stone. Indeed, in the Children’s Plan we highlighted the potential opportunities presented by our Making Good Progress pilot, where pupils are entered for single level tests when their teacher judges them to be ready. One potential advantage of this system is that it could promote more personalised teaching that is focused on helping each child, at whatever level they are working; make the greatest progress they can. Another is that because each child is entered for assessments when teachers judge them to have achieved the standard, the temptation to teach to the test in a narrow way should be reduced.



But it is important we evaluate the case for change before making decisions. As I said to the Committee, the pilot runs to next July and is being externally evaluated. I have asked for an interim report in the autumn, and I will be happy to share this with you.



I very much welcome the constructive work of your Committee in this important area. I will keep you informed of developments over the summer. I look forward to appearing again before you and your Committee members to discuss these matters.



I am copying this letter to the Speaker and to Michael Gove MP and David Laws MP and I have also placed a copy in both libraries of the House.




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