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Primary results overstated; Standards up but progress exaggerated.

Byline: TIM ROSS

MINISTERS have ``substantially overstated'' the improvements in primary school standards in the last 10 years, according to the statistics watchdog.

Test results for 11-year-olds jumped from 48% reaching the expected level in English in 1995 to 75% in 2000, with similar rises for maths.

But the Statistics Commission said these improvements were largely down to teachers drilling pupils to do well in the tests and did not reflect real improvements.

The commission's report said: ``The improvement in Key Stage 2 (age 11) test scores between 1995 and 2000 substantially overstates the improvement in standards in primary schools in that time. ''

There had been ``some rise in standards'' but the test results exaggerated the progress, the report said.

But the commission warned: ``Ministers, and others who may want to use the test scores in a policy context, need to be made fully aware of any caveats about their interpretation. ''

The commission delivered its judgment after receiving a letter from Professor Peter Tymms, an academic at the University of Durham.

Prof Tymms had written a paper setting out his analysis of the test results for 11-year-olds at Key Stage 2, which are used to create annual school league tables.

He asked the commission to consider his concerns that the test scores were not suitable for the purpose of monitoring changing standards over time.

After examining the issues for nearly a year, the commission backed many of Prof Tymms's main arguments.

The report said: ``As Tymms's article demonstrates, the sharp rise in Key Stage 2 scores in the latter 1990s cannot be simply interpreted as a rise in schools performance standards - there are a number of qualifications that need to be made.

``Yet Government departments have usually failed to mention any caveats about other possible reasons for rising test scores int heir public comments. '' It went on: ``We feel that public presentation of the Key Stage scores in statistical releases should include a clear statement about the uses to which the data may be put, and the limitations on the data in respect of those uses.

``In that statement, it should be recognised that part of the rapid rise in test scores from 1995 to 2000 can be explained by factors other than a rise in standards. ''

Tony Blair's flagship city academies programme is unlikely to raise standards significantly, according to a government funded report that examined similar schemes overseas.

The report suggests the pounds 5bn scheme could lead to a two-tier school system based on social class. Ministers want 200 academies to be open or under construction by 2010.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2005
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