Glitches leave school tests 'unworkable'

Published Wednesday, 24 October 2012
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The chairman of Stormont's education committee claims problems with primary school computer tests could be on a scale with the Ulster Bank crisis.

Glitches leave school tests 'unworkable'
Information for the troubled computer-based assessments. (© UTV)

Thousands of pupils were affected when computers froze or crashed during literacy and numeracy tests online.

On Wednesday, Mervyn Storey told the Department of Education and exams body officials that principals in his constituency have described the system as unworkable and not fit for purpose.

"That's the magnitude of the Ulster Bank in terms of how this it is seen by pupils and teachers. How is it going to be addressed?" the DUP MLA questioned.

More than 50,000 pupils at hundreds of schools across Northern Ireland have completed the computer-based assessments (CBAs), using a system which cost close to £1 million.

It was feared that the results do not accurately reflect a child's ability, but earlier this month, NI exam board CCEA said CBAs are not "high stakes" assessments.

We have a very costly, complicated system in place that it seems not to have the confidence of a large section of the school population.

Mervyn Storey

"I want a fair, open, transparent assessment of this process," added Mr Storey.

Education Minister John O'Dowd has written to all primary schools and said the tests need not be completed until all problems are fixed.

During Wednesday's meeting it was revealed that, as well as the £900,000 bill this year, the online testing is expected to cost £400,000 in subsequent years.

Katrina Godfrey, from the Department of Education, said testing costs less than £5 for each child assessed, and agreed that resolving the technical problems is a priority.

"There is a determination from the minister, the department, CCEA (Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) and the Western Board which runs the C2K to make sure that we can get to the root of it quickly," she said.

"The minister is absolutely committed to making sure that action is taken."

Danny Kinahan, Vice-Chair of the Education Committee, said that the department must provide answers as to how the problems arose.

He said that "many teaching and learning hours" have been wasted in preparing to take part in the assessments.

"For many teachers across Northern Ireland, hours that should have been spent on teaching were instead wasted on attempts to solve the problems with the assessment system.

"The confusion that ensued as to whether or not the testing system would be pulled only added to the frustration and was totally unacceptable."

The UUP Education spokesperson continued, saying that the Department of Education and Exam Boards "must provide answers as to why these problems arose and what plans they have put in place to ensure that it does not happen again."

© UTV News
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