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Pupil evaluation test scrapped over scoring blunders

By Lindsay Fergus

A controversial test taken by all primary school children in Northern Ireland has been axed after four years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The ill-fated InCAS — literacy and numeracy computer assessments — were hit with a series of problems that rocked teachers’ confidence in the software.

Incorrect maths scores were issued to more than 300 primary schools following a computer programme error in October 2009 — the third year InCAS had been used in schools here.

Just weeks later, a second blunder occurred when a mistake was detected in the standardised scores sent to some schools.

Then Education Minister Caitriona Ruane said the lapses highlighted to schools the danger of introducing a system of testing that had not been trialled.

Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), explained: “Because InCAS did not achieve universal confidence amongst teachers, many schools invested in NFER (National Foundation for Education Research) and other assessment tools.

“A good, universal, assessment tool would cut costs, but — pending confidence in the product — there is significant financial waste in double spending.”

The Department of Education has confirmed that the InCAS contract, which expires on January 19, has not been renewed.

InCAS was administered at a total cost of £3m by the University of Durham’s Centre for Evaluating and Monitoring (CEM).

Instead, two private firms — Tribal Education and Rising Stars UK — will provide the software for the literacy and numeracy assessments for the next three years at a similar cost.

Trialling of the new systems gets under way in schools this month before being rolled out in the spring. The first pupil evaluations will be held in the autumn.

Like InCAS, Tribal will be used to assess the literacy abilities of P4 to P7 pupils while Rising Stars will evaluate numeracy skills.

Background

InCAS is a personalised computer assessment in literacy and maths. Children in P4 to P7 sit the 30-minute tests in the autumn. Questions become gradually more difficult until the final one is appropriate for a child who is 10 years of age. If a child gets a number of wrong answers it suggests they have moved beyond their ability. InCAS repeats this process until it identifies a general maths/literacy age. The age equivalent score allows teachers and parents to gauge performance in relation to actual age. The data is returned directly to the schools.

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