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Irish school tests under fire

16/07/2004 15:40:15
Press Association

National testing for primary schoolchildren was branded foolhardy today by one of the country's leading teachers' unions.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) claimed testing children as young as seven would label some failures for life and demonise disadvantaged schools.

INTO general secretary John Carr said numeracy and literacy tests for seven and 11-year-olds were culturally biased and there was no that evidence teaching standards would improve.

"We regard this as foolhardy. These tests have their limitations, they are not totally reliable and they should come with a health warning," Mr Carr said.

"If the minister had have come to us we could have put him right on it, and on the problems."

The tests measuring numeracy and literature levels amongst seven and 11-year-olds, due to be introduced in 2006-07, will be used to plot national standards rather than label schools, Education Minister Noel Dempsey said.

Mr Carr said the problems within the State education system had already been identified and that the government had failed to act to solve them.

And he added the government had not asked for any input from the INTO on introducing nationwide tests.

"The key issue for us is, after assessment comes what? We know that the resources are needed, the issue is that the minister cannot get the resources," he said.

Mr Carr claimed up to 7000 children around the country with special needs had already been assessed and results showed they needed more help, but that had yet to be provided.

"There are genuine fears that this information could be used to label children and stigmatise them for failing educationally or demotivate them, that is our fear.

"There are other fears that it could be used to demonise disadvantaged schools, or teachers who are putting in huge effort."

Minister Dempsey said that there was no intention to create competition either between schools, teachers or children at a very young age.

"There will be no league tables on the basis of this. I don`t want them used in this way, it is a tool for positive action rather than anything negative," Mr Dempsey said.

"We need information if we are going to ensure that the system is as effective as it should be. This is one way of getting that data."

The minister added that 96% of primary schools across the country were already using some form of testing to measure pupils` ability and that standardising tests would give nationwide data.

But he added that over the last 10 years there was little or no improvement in literacy levels across the State and change was needed.

Mr Dempsey, however, criticised his own government for failing to provide adequate data to assist the work of policymakers.

He said there was a huge lack of information within his department, and in other areas of government, which slowed down people`s ability to make the correct policy decisions.

And he added creating a nationwide data would address that imbalance and highlight areas in need of extra work.

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