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Minister seeks assurances on pupil assessments

28 October, 2009 - by Caitríona Ruane

Education Minister Caitríona Ruane has expressed her disappointment that a second error has been discovered in the InCAS pupil assessments.

Earlier this month the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) announced that an error had been detected in the maths element of the InCAS pupil assessments. CCEA has now advised the Department of Education that a further error relating to statistical data has been detected and subsequently corrected. This was a technical error relating to an extra layer of statistical data on INCAS which may be used by some primary schools. This data is over and above the information which needs to be reported to parents, and does not affect that information.

The error in the computer program affected scores in all four of the main components of InCAs – general maths, reading, mental arithmetic and developed ability. This error has meant that the scores reported for children performing at the very high and very low ability levels will tend to be, respectively higher or lower than they should.

Education Minister Caitríona Ruane said: “I am very disappointed that, despite assurances earlier this month that the system has been checked and previous problems corrected, a second error has come to light. I would pay tribute to the principals and teachers whose attention to detail in analysing data from InCAS identified this further problem.

“Diagnostic assessments are designed to help teachers identify the strengths and weaknesses in their young pupils and must be robustly constructed. They can help parents see the progress their children are making at school and were not designed for any other purpose.

“InCAS has been developed over a number of years and was piloted in a number of schools prior to rolling out, yet problems still emerged. These incidents should highlight to all schools the danger of trying to implement a system of testing young children using breakaway tests that have not been validated or trialled.

"While this second error is in relation to information provided for use by the schools and not parents, I have no doubt that parents will need reassurances that the education of their children will not be adversely affected by this.

“My Department has demanded full information from CCEA on how this error occurred and what steps they have taken to remedy it, including communicating directly with affected schools. In addition, CCEA will need to consider the issue of support for the schools affected, including practical support for any schools that need to meet again with parents following the earlier error. For the longer term, we will need to examine the contractual issues around the continued use of this diagnostic tool.

“I am concerned that these errors could potentially impact on confidence in diagnostic assessment and intend to set up a working group to look at how we address this, and support schools, in using diagnostic assessment to inform teaching and learning. In addition, I have told CCEA to commission an immediate audit by an independent third party to determine exactly what went wrong. It is important that teachers and parents can have confidence in a system that can impact on the education of young children."

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