Examiner doubts value of SATs

Entry qualification debate rumbles on as minister vaunts new diplomas. Melanie Newman reports

March 13, 2008

US-style scholastic aptitude tests should not be used to select university applicants, a senior officer in England's largest examining board has argued.

In a discussion paper published this month in the journal Research Papers in Education, Neil Stringer, a research officer at the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, said adopting SATs would be a "burdensome, expensive disappointment".

Advocates of the SAT believe it is fairer to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds than the A-level exam because it tests future potential rather than achievement.

But Dr Stringer said the tests would only validate the status quo. "Existing aptitude tests are simply not environment proof and, even if they were, there should be great concern over the fairness of rewarding the outcomes of such tests and the validity of using them for admissions," he said.

Rather than SATs, Dr Stringer suggested, GCSE results and A-level Uniform Mark Scale grades should be used. These should be ranked in order, split into bands and within each band a "simple measure of educational context" should be used to reorder applicants, he said. The measure could be based on the socioeconomic status of pupils or the performance of their school.

"The controversy will begin when we argue that someone with a lower score should overtake another applicant because his lower score is a greater achievement considering the educational context," Dr Stringer said. "Some critics will never accept that as fair and will always argue that AAA (grades) from Eton should always trump AAB from an inner-city further education college."


The Government has announced a new 14-19 diploma aimed at the brightest pupils, which is expected to be equivalent to four and a half A levels, writes Rebecca Attwood

With a "strengthened core" of English and maths, the diploma will offer in-depth learning and independent study, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has said. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, last week told the Association of School and College Leaders: "It could appeal to teenagers who currently study at least four A levels ... as well as students at the foundation and higher stage." He again said diplomas could become "the qualification of choice", fuelling speculation that A levels might not survive a review of qualifications in 2013.

Higher education "diploma champion" Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, said: "The opportunity for learners to take higher level maths or English components, as well as further specialist learning, will be particularly welcome in preparing students for higher education."

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said there had been a lack of consultation - and this was "another step along a confusing road".


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