Belfast Telegraph

Primary computer tests 'unworkable'

Problems with primary school computer tests are on the same scale as the Ulster Bank crisis, the chairman of Stormont's education committee claimed.

Mervyn Storey was questioning the Department of Education and exams body officials about the technical glitches which have hampered hundreds of schoolchildren from completing online assessments.

The DUP MLA said school principals in his North Antrim constituency have complained that the new system is unworkable, unreliable, not fit for purpose and undermines confidence in computer-based testing.

He said: "That's the magnitude of the Ulster Bank in terms of how this is is seen by pupils and teachers. How is it going to be addressed?"

The Department of Education is paying almost a million pounds to roll out the new system this year. The tests for children in P4 to P7 are designed to check on their literacy and numeracy progress.

More than 50,000 pupils have completed the tests. However, hundreds of schools have encountered faults which mean a 35-minute test could take up to three hours to finish. There are also concerns that the results do not accurately reflect a child's ability.

Mr Storey has called for a no-holds-barred investigation of the issues. He added: "We have a very costly, complicated system in place that it seems not to have the confidence of a large section of the school population... I want a fair, open, transparent assessment of this process."

Education Minister John O'Dowd has agreed there are glitches which need to be sorted out. He has written to all primary schools and has said tests do not need to be completed until all the problems are fixed.

It was also revealed that the costs of online testing have totalled £900,000 this year and are likely to incur a £400,000 annual bill in the future.

In her evidence, Katrina Godfrey from the Department of Education said the figures equated to less than £5 for each child assessed. Ms Godfrey said resolving the intermittent technical problems was a top priority, and added: "There is a determination from the minister, the department, CCEA (Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment) and the Western Board which runs the C2K to make sure that we can get to the root of it quickly. The minister is absolutely committed to making sure that action is taken."

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