The First Minister has called on the two test agencies who provide transfer tests to get together with the aim of producing a single transfer test.
The GL test is, in the main, taken by pupils wishing to attend a Catholic grammar school, with the AQE test taken, in the main, by pupils wishing to apply to grammar schools in the “state” sector.
At present more pupils take the AQE than the GL test. While the AQE makes all its tests available to the public, GL does not publish past papers. When the media present information about the transfer test, the test agency providing that information is invariably the AQE. I doubt if any News Letter reader has ever heard a GL representative face media questioning. In what follows I will offer a critique of the GL test. That critique should leave the First Minister in no doubt that if there is to be a single transfer test it should be the AQE test.
The “old” transfer test consisted of two tests, each of one-hour duration, taken on separate days. Children who, for example, might have had a sleepless night before taking the first test, had the opportunity to improve their score on the later test. In these circumstances, a sleepless night might only impact adversely on one of the two assessments.
Moreover, by holding the tests on different days, children, through access to their primary school teachers in the period between tests, might address shortcomings in their knowledge and skills – which might have come to light in the first test – in time for the second. While the AQE assessment (with its three tests set on different days and only the best two scores used to compute the child’s final score) seeks to reduce levels of test anxiety below those associated with the “old” transfer test, the GL test seems to involve an increased test anxiety.
A glance at the GL literature reveals that children are involved in almost two hours of testing (with a break in the middle) at one sitting. (It should be noted that few GCSE examinations – taken by older pupils – test for these lengths of time.) Under the GL arrangement there is no opportunity to address pupil misconceptions between tests because the assessment in its entirety takes place on one day. A sleepless night has the potential to impact adversely on the pupil.
To add to this, unlike the AQE test, the children have to carefully transfer each of their answers to a multiple-choice grid because the GL test is marked by “optical mark recognition” software. Why do I stress the fact that AQE have sought to reduce test anxiety below the levels of the “old” transfer test, while the GL confines testing to a single day? Because there is extensive international research evidence that test performance is negatively correlated with test anxiety.
If GL maintain their silence (allowing their host schools to speak for them) then the First Minster & Education Minister must choose the AQE test as the single instrument for transfer.
Stephen Elliott, Chair, Parental Alliance for Choice in Education