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P7 pupils ‘guinea pigs’ for new tests


Irish News

New grammar school entrance tests will not be trialled before going live, confirming fears that children will be used as ‘guinea pigs’ in the post-11-plus transfer era.

More than 5,000 pupils entering P7 this autumn will be the first to tackle the maths and English questions of the Common Entrance Assessment (CEA).

Under the state-sponsored 11-plus, tens of thousands of pounds were spent on rigorous pre-testing.

This involved primary pupils in England answering questions to ensure they were not too difficult and did not favour boys or girls.

The CEA, which is being used by about half of the north’s grammar schools, will not follow suit despite its architects saying they have gone to considerable lengths to perfect it.

This latest disclosure is causing parents to further question the high-stakes exam, which will determine whether their children win grammar places.

It was revealed in February that schools opting for the CEA planned to save money by using volunteers to set and mark papers rather than paying examiners to do so. Those administering the CEA already have full-time jobs – some as teachers.

There has also been criticism of the GL Assessment papers used by the other group of grammars, mainly in the Catholic sector.

Although these papers are being trialled in England, some primary principals have claimed that questions are pitched at a level well beyond that of the old 11-plus and above that of any child in November of their P7 year in the north.

The Association for Quality Education (AQE), which is responsible for the CEA, is creating its papers from scratch. It says the content is “matched exactly” to previous transfer tests, without science.

Thorough trialling was used in the development of the 11-plus.

This involved the meticulous pre-testing of individual questions. Substantially more questions were trialled than were needed for the final papers.

Trials took place in schools outside Northern Ireland with pupils of a similar age. This aimed to ensure the suitability of questions and identify and eliminate any ambiguity or bias.

The cost of trials and analysing data last year was £52,488.

None of this, however, will happen with the CEA exams. An AQE spokesman said there were various reasons for this.

“Time was undoubtedly a factor. That said, we have spent a long time on the preparation. We had a very experienced team, all members of which were aware of the revised curriculum and of the levels at primary school,” he said.

“People may say that these assessments are not standardised. However, we have gone to considerable lengths to try to get these as right as we can and to ensure that the levels are appropriate.”



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