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School tests plagued by IT glitches cost Northern Ireland £3m

BY MICHAEL McHUGH

Computer-based literacy and numeracy tests used by primary schools in Northern Ireland which developed a series of technical glitches have cost almost £3m.

Faults were reported by teachers trying to run the software.

Some results of literacy assessments from thousands of pupils used by schools to see how they compared to other schools and other areas were also wrong, it emerged recently.

In response to an Assembly question, the education minister stated that £1.2m had been paid to two commercial companies involved in supplying the Northern Ireland Literacy Assessment (Nila) and the Northern Ireland Numeracy Assessment (Nina).

When teacher and administrative staff time, venue hire and printing are added, the cost comes to £2.8m from November 2011 to last March, John O’Dowd said.

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey (below) said: “If the minister had listened to the common sense of the teachers in the schools he would have had no need to sign a contract to give out public money to do tests which are not worth the paper they are written on.

“He should have used the tests teachers currently use which are working, accepted by the inspectorate and a lot cheaper to the schools.”

The problem concerned tests of 88,000 pupils in P4 and P7  in autumn.

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) said literacy and numeracy results received by pupils and parents were correct. The problem was with standardised scores for literacy, used to measure school performance.

Education Minister Mr O'Dowd said last month the computer-based assessments will no longer be compulsory for schools following complaints from teachers.

He added recently: “However, 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.”

He added that the tests will still be available to schools, stating: “There is continued benefit for schools in using these bespoke assessments and for this reason Nila and Nina will be available to schools on a voluntary basis.”

Story so far

The Northern Ireland Literacy Assessment (Nila) and the Northern Ireland Numeracy Assessment (Nina) were introduced in primary schools in autumn 2012. It was a legal requirement for every pupil in Years 4 to 7 to do the online assessments and report to the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. Last month it was announced they would no longer be compulsory.

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