Leader: UK faces testing times

August 13, 2004

Cambridge's tests of thinking skills (TSAs) are too new for anyone to be certain that they are a better predictor of subsequent academic success than A levels, but the early signs are promising. Given the mess that the A-level system has got into, it would be surprising if they were not. Choosing between candidates with straight As may be a problem confined to a minority of universities, but it is too high profile to be ignored. The current grades no longer do the job, but there is continuing resistance to an A*, and little confidence that marking is sufficiently precise to rely on marginal differences in numerical scores.

Ministers will want more evidence before they take the unpopular step of adding to the testing burden, especially if coaching is liable to influence the results. That would give candidates from schools (mainly in the independent sector) that can put on extra classes even more of an advantage. But, as the Schwartz committee is likely to stress next month, the disparities will be even greater if there is a profusion of different types of test. With SATs still attracting criticism in the US (page 6), the field is open for a British alternative. While the jury is still out on TSAs, their time may come.

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