Scotland’s First Minister Announces National Testing Plan


First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has revealed her new assessment legislative program for students in primary, fourth, and seventh grades as well as for third year secondary school students. The new standardized assessments on literacy and numeracy will help understand and close the attainment gap between poor and wealthy students, Sturgeon hopes.

The Scottish government sees as one of its top priorities the growth of student educational attainment, something Sturgeon wants to resolve through the introduction of national standardized testing. Her proposal will help bridge the gap between well-off students and students living in deprived areas and is not meant to create “crude league tables”.

As Jamie McIvor of BBC explains, Sturgeon’s program will cause friction with unions already heavily criticizing her proposal:

“The move could prove controversial, and unions have already put a shot across the government’s bows – but much of the devil will actually be in the detail.”

Councillor Stephanie Primrose, spokeswoman for Cosla Education, characterized the plan as a positive step, but warned:

“If we are not careful, despite assurances, this could turn the clock back to ­national testing and, whether ­intended or not, league tables. We share the concerns of parents and unions that if not handled correctly, this risks being a retrograde step that heaps more pressure on pupils and teachers and leads to inaccurate and unfair comparisons between schools.”

Sturgeon replied to her program’s critics by insisting that meaningful assessments will help Scotland avoid being mired in a system of useless competitive rankings:

“I have no desire to see crude league tables that distort rather than enhance our understanding of children’s attainment and school performance. However, I am determined that we make available much more information about performance in primary and lower secondary school.”

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson supported Sturgeon’s proposal:

“It’s simply wrong that parents can see their child go all the way through primary school and half-way into high school without having any independent measure of how well they’re doing,” Ms Davidson highlighted.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said that if implemented, national testing will put pressure on students who will be forced to do well so that school numbers look good.

Sturgeon’s program to improve educational attainment is meant to offer valuable insights on the performance of students in rich and poor areas and help close that gap.

National testing for students ages 5 to 13 was scrapped in 2003. The new literacy and numeracy tests will be piloted in 2016 and fully introduced in schools in 2017 as a way of supplementing teacher judgement on student performance. Sturgeon stated that the testing is not meant to prescribe teaching:

“This is not about narrowing the curriculum or forcing teachers to teach to the test. It is not a return to the national testing of old,” Ms Sturgeon said. The assessments will inform teacher judgement not replace it.”