Standardised tests on horizon for primary maths and reading

Tests of children’s reading and maths ability are being overhauled in response to the early success of a strategy to improve standards.

New literacy teaching methods will be a focus of a revised plan to combat educational disadvantage which Education Minister Richard Bruton will publish later this year.

National assessments of second-class and sixth-class pupils at 150 primary schools two years ago revealed all targets, set in the 2011-2020 National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy for primary level, had already been reached. As well as spending more time on literacy and numeracy, teachers must focus on integrating them into how all subjects are taught.

The improvements since 2009, revealed in a report early last year, were the first significant gains in a generation on the assessments done every five years.

This has been a factor in the decision to replace the existing tests carried out by all 3,200 primary schools as part of the strategy. They must administer standardised tests to second, fourth and sixth classes each year and report summary findings to the Department of Education.

The analysis of results of recent years has led to a decision the tests are in need of urgent replacement, Mr Bruton was told by officials last month. A department spokesperson told the Irish Examiner

tests of this type need to be revised and standardised periodically. This helps to determine performance norms for the entire student population and to allow comparison of each pupil’s results against those national standards.

The tests used by primary schools were last standardised in 2006 and 2007, and the replacement tests are to be provided by the Educational Research Centre at St Patrick’s College, Dublin.

“We know from the results of the 2014 national assessments that average performance has increased in recent years,” the department said.

“Revised norms will give teachers more realistic pictures of students’ strengths and weaknesses and, thereby, enhance planning by teachers and whole schools.”

The revisions have been sanctioned and funding for the work is provided for in this year’s education budget, but the exercise will take about two-and-a-half years.

As part of the plan to revised the Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) programme, which gives extra supports to 800 schools with highest numbers of disadvantaged students, Mr Bruton wants new approaches to teaching.

As reported here yesterday, his officials point to major improvements in results when changes are made to the way literacy is taught. The minister also indicated the revised Deis scheme would look to improve supports for principals in disadvantaged schools.

While average scores at reading and maths improved across all schools, the 2014 national assessment found there was no real reduction in the gap between pupils in disadvantaged urban schools and those elsewhere.

Deis schools showed substantial improvements in reading, but there was particular concern about the large proportion of students in the most disadvantaged urban schools who can still only read at the lowest standard. Considerable scope for improvement also emerged from the results for maths in Deis schools.

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