Headlines: January 19th, 2009

Multiple-choice tests are more reliable than current SATs papers according to a paper published today by the Centre for Policy Studies. It claims that in the last six years repeated failures in exam marking have undermined the validity and reputation of external examinations.

The report, “Ticking the Right Boxes”, has been produced by Tom Burkard, the Director of The Promethean Trust, a Norwich-based charity for dyslexic children. He says that difficulties with English SATs in particular are systemic but he says pressure to end external examinations at age 11 plus must be resisted because parents, teachers and politicians all need rigorous evidence on pupil performance.

Mr. Burkard says the underlying problem is the nature of the open-ended essay questions designed to test pupils’ critical thinking skills. It is unrealistic, he claims, to expect examiners to be able to mark accurately essays written by 600,000 11 year olds. Instead, he suggests the essay format should be replaced by multiple choice tests. These, he believes, would provide a far more accurate and reliable picture of how well pupils and schools are performing.

Looking at other advantages he says the multiple choice tests would be far cheaper and quicker to mark while still being an accurate test of knowledge and ability and enable accurate year on year comparisons on school performance. Multiple choice questions would also make it impossible for teachers to ‘teach the test’, today’s paper says.