British Panel: Abolish National Tests Under 16

K-12 Testing


FairTest Examiner - July 2007

British and U.S. schoolchildren share the dubious distinction of being among the most tested students in the world. But now a new government-appointed panel is advocating a "fundamental and urgent review of the testing regime" in Britain. Specifically, the General Teaching Council (GTC) urges the abolition of national exams for all students under 16 because the tests are failing to improve standards, de-motivating students and encouraging dropouts.

The GTC said British students face an average of 70 tests and exams before the age of 16. The current policy imposes Standard Assessment Tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14. The results are published in school "league tables" intended to show the public comparative performance. The result of all the testing pressure, said a report from the GTC, is that young people in Britain are not being well educated or prepared for life.

"The range of knowledge and skills that tests assess is very narrow and to prepare young people for the world they need a set of skills that are far broader," said Keith Bartley, chief executive of the GTC, an independent regulatory body established in 2000. Bartley said a more reasonable alternative would be a 'sampling' system under which less than 1% of primary schoolchildren and less than 3% of secondary students would take national tests. "You do not have to test every child every four years to know whether children are making more or less progress than they used to," he said.

The GTC calls for an increased focus on assessments developed and scored by teachers leading "to a richer and better informed dialogue between the school and parents." This echoes a key recommendation of the Forum on Educational Accountability's Expert Panel on Assessment (see article, this issue), which calls for the construction of "comprehensive and coherent systems of state and local assessments of student learning that work together to support instruction, educational improvement and accountability."

As it gained autonomy from British regulation, Wales eliminated its extensive testing program (see Examiner, January 2007). Scotland never implemented the testing regimen.