Ministers are under fresh pressure over school standardised assessments after international experts told MSPs they were not considered an “appropriate” method for monitoring the overall success of Curriculum for Excellence and its impact on pupil learning (CfE).

The remarks come after a landmark CfE review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) raised significant doubt over the controversial tests.

Taken online in P1, P4, P7 and S3, Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) were introduced amid concern over sliding scores in areas such as maths and science. There is no pass or fail and children do not have to revise or prepare.

The tests support teacher judgement of pupil progress against key literacy and numeracy milestones, with data then gathered on the overall percentage of children who have achieved the level relevant to their age and stage. This is reported in the Government’s Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Level (ACEL) statistics.

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However, in the commentary alongside its key recommendations, the OECD’s review pointedly queries the use of SNSAs. “Designed to provide data to support teacher judgement and information for system monitoring, it is questionable whether census-based assessments of this kind can serve both purposes well,” it states.

Elsewhere, the report, which was published earlier this year, says information generated by existing “system monitoring and evaluation” appears “limited” and does not provide evidence to support future curricular development. It also proposes consideration of a sample-based process.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville insisted previously that concerns over SNSAs did not constitute one of the “specific” recommendations contained within the report, which has resulted in plans to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority and break up standards body Education Scotland.

HeraldScotland: The use of standardised assessments, particularly with younger children, has been a source of considerable controversy.The use of standardised assessments, particularly with younger children, has been a source of considerable controversy.

But this assertion was contradicted by OECD policy analyst Romane Viennet as she and Dr Beatriz Pont were questioned by MSPs during Wednesday’s meeting of the Education, Children and Young People Committee. Ms Viennet said current arrangements were producing lots of data but added that the information was not necessarily relevant for monitoring the effect of CfE on learning.

“Our recommendations and our suggestions are only based on Curriculum for Excellence, so we cannot, and the report does not, pronounce itself on the broader part of the education system,” she added. “I can only speak to [how the SNSA] connects to Curriculum for Excellence... and this is stated rather clearly in the report, that the SNSA is not considered by our team as the most appropriate system-monitoring mechanism as far as CfE is concerned.”

Asked if the commentary was part of the report’s recommendations, she added: “The text beneath the recommendations is part of the recommendations, and the OECD is not expecting a government to take every single point, point by point, and provide a response for an action immediately, but rather to use the whole of the text… in terms of recommendations, because those recommendations cannot be understood or interpreted outside of the context we provide with the broader text.”

Dr Pont, Senior Analyst for Education Policy at the OECD, suggested that existing processes were not generating sufficient evidence on how well the system is helping pupils to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. “The assessment system is not fully providing information about how CfE is succeeding,” she said. “It’s more focused on the knowledge aspect and there are three other capacities that... don’t appear in the data.”

SNSAs have generated considerable controversy amid concern over their impact on P1 children and fears that they result in narrow, “teaching to the test” approaches.

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Green MSP Ross Greer said: “The OECD is clear that these tests have limited value and aren’t collecting the data needed at national level, whilst teachers have made it equally clear that they are not helpful at an individual school or pupil level either.

"If SNSAs are fulfilling neither of these purposes, we have to ask what value they are adding to Scottish education?”

A Government spokeswoman said the tests were not designed or intended to measure the effectiveness of CfE.

She added: “In providing nationally consistent, objective and comparable information, the assessments provide a helpful additional source of information for teachers when considering children’s progress.

"The assessment approach places teacher professional judgement at the heart of the process. Teachers work most closely with children and are best placed to judge how well they are progressing. We will carefully consider all the observations in the OECD report. This work is ongoing.”