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Monday, 18 March 2013 00:00

Kent Test: Proposed new arrangements

Kent County Council has at last brought forward its plans for replacing the current Kent Test, which has been the subject of considerable criticism for a variety of reasons, notably the unfairness and skewing  of outcomes because of the intensive coaching culture which has developed around the Test. A totally inadequate survey of headteachers took place over the Christmas holidays, that provided little useful information, although it is being used to justify the proposals below. You will find the Report to be discussed by the KCC Education Cabinet Committee here.

The main proposals are:......


1) The number of tests should be reduced from three papers (or four if one counts the written test only marked in specific circumstances) to two. These would combine elements presently covered by the current tests, i.e. verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, mathematics and the written test. The balance of these four elements across the two tests to be determined by the successful contractor - see below.

2) Overall time spent on the tests would be reduced, enabling the completion of testing to be carried out in one day for all candidates. Testing on one day enables children in Kent primary schools and others to have the same timing arrangements  - at present Kent primary children are tested over two school days, others, including out of county children (ooc), and those from catholic and some private schools on a Saturday. Kent children would continue to be tested in primary schools, and ooc presumably on the following Saturday as at present, although this does still present a security problem. 

3) There should still be a single practice test, materials made available for unlimited use by the council, including answer sheets and explanations on how answers are arrived at for use by teachers or parents (this implies that it is assumed there will now be opportunity for teachers to be involved in teaching for the test, which would be a major shift in policy).  It sounds as if this is to be used at school or parental discretion, not in a set run through of the Test arrangements as at present. KCC claims that a majority of respondents to the survey were in favour of 'reducing' the practice tests. Headteachers were not asked about reducing the practice tests, so it is difficult to see how a majority were in favour!

4) It is claimed that there was support for what is called local standardisation of results, and the tenders for test providers should indicate how this could be done. My previous article makes the point that this was a ridiculous part of the 'survey', taken without explaining what local standardisation is, and supplying a non-working example to illustrate it - I have checked with a number of professionals on this, and few were even aware  of the concept, even fewer on how it works. I made the additional point that if this is  introduced it is solely to ease the problems of the super-selective schools, also implied on the KCC paper, and such changes should not be imposed for their benefit. 

5) It is recommended that Headteacher Assessment Panels, which select additional border-zone children should remain.   

It is noted that the proposed changes would bring down costs through the reduction in the number of papers used. 

These proposals are supposed to address the main themes identified by an earlier Headteacher Review Group. These were that the new test should be, as far as possible:

1) As uncoachable as possible - if it uses the same elements as the current test, then it will be equally coachable. Possibly not in Year 1 as the format may not be familiar (but see below), but certainly after that. 

2)Include a stronger literacy element - NFER, historically the main assessment research body in the country, used to claim that literacy was not as good a predictor of academic success as the other assessment tests, by some way. I can find no recent research on the subject, but it would be highly relevant. The tests are to be multiple choice, scored by an optical mark reader, so the literacy would presumably also be multiple choice. 

3) Be flexible in application, so results can be used in different ways - I am not sure what this means, unless it is that the test should be used for discrimination at the top of the scale, currently only used significantly by four Kent grammar schools. The test was never intended for use in this way, so surely it is their problem to solve, not KCC's. To introduce Local Standardisation just for their purposes is wrong. 

4) Avoid commercial exploitation (marketing of practice materials to parents) - this is totally unrealistic. Whilst the style of the first year's test may be unavailable (see below), similar papers will be produced immediately afterwards. It is not possible to keep the papers confidential subsequent to the test (photocopiers are already employed so that past papers are circulated to select groups). 

A convoluted process has come up with a recommendation that could have been, and was, forecast from the beginning, a review group and a survey having played no particular role in influencing outcomes. The main aim, the reduction of coachability has not been touched, although the secondary aim of reducing costs probably has been. 

As far as I can see, the tests are building towards a model already in use in several Local Authorities and bearing a marked similarity to that being introduced in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire for 2014 entry. It just so happens that Buckinghamshire is the home of elevenplusexams, probably the largest commercial organisation in the country dedicated to materials relating to the 11 plus. They will no doubt swing into operation as soon as the first papers are sat, if not before (this is not a criticism of the organisation, it is an indication of what KCC is up against).  

KCC has to go out to tender this summer for the 2014 tests selecting for 2015 entry, the first time that changes can be introduced. One likely bidder is the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University, already responsible for some of the new tests including those in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire so, if they were successful it is likely that the format would also be similar.   

The KCC paper also remarks: "If the expectations of the schools involved in the review are realised........". Sorry, but this is fantasy. The headteacher survey was a farce and it is impossible from the outcomes to determine headteachers' expectations, if any. 

However, most of the changes are unexceptionable, so no major harm done!  






Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 23:10

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