Primary schools not required to use computer-based tests

John O'Dowd Education Minister John O'Dowd said the numeracy and literacy tests will still be available for primary schools

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The Education Minister, John O'Dowd, has said primary schools will not be required to use computer-based tests for literacy and numeracy this autumn.

Mr O'Dowd told MLAs that a significant number of schools reported difficulties in carrying out the computer tests.

The minister said he was concerned that some pupils had become distressed when they faced technical difficulties.

Mr O'Dowd said schools are still planning to carry out assessments voluntarily using a range of tools.

Last October, up to 400 primary schools in Northern Ireland had problems with the computer assessment for P4 and P7 pupils.

The Department of Education said that 180 schools had reported problems.

Mr O'Dowd was speaking in the assembly on Tuesday on the outcome of a review he had commissioned on the new NINA (numeracy) and NILA (literacy) assessments following the technical difficulties encountered by some schools last autumn.

"The statutory computer-based assessments (CBAs) were, and are, intended to deliver diagnostic assessments tailored to our curriculum to support teachers and pupils. The data was not collected or collated centrally," he told MLAs.

"Instead, its purpose was to provide teachers and parents with information on a pupil's strengths and areas for improvement.

'Pressure'

The Department of Education said that 180 schools had reported problems

"However, following the introduction of the new CBAs in autumn 2012 a significant number of schools reported difficulties in the operation of them.

"Of most concern, were the experiences relayed to me directly by teachers about the pressure they felt in administering the assessments and in some cases the distress felt by pupils when they faced technical difficulties."

As part of the review into CBAs, Mr O'Dowd said 10 workshops were held with every primary school invited to participate.

"This consultation found that, almost without exception, school principals accept and support the need for diagnostic assessment but wish to see it supported in a more flexible way than the current CBA legislation allows," he said.

"On the basis of the findings from the reviews and most importantly in recognition of the concerns expressed by schools, I have decided that my department will not specify the literacy and numeracy assessments - NINA and NILA - for mandatory use in the forthcoming autumn term.

"I know that schools value diagnostic assessment early in the year and plan to conduct assessments voluntarily using a range of tools. Consequently, I expect diagnostic assessment will take place, in a form that is convenient for schools, and that this information will feed into engagement with parents."

The minister said the numeracy and literacy tests will still be available for primary schools wishing to use them.

The Department of Education is looking for schools willing to participate in a pilot programme examining how the assessments might develop in the future.

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