Clarity needed on purpose of standardised assessment


Clearer direction on the purpose of standardised assessment in schools is needed, according to a report issued today by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee.

The Committee has been exploring the evidence for the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) which are completed by school pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

The Committee took evidence on the introduction and purpose of the assessments as well as analysing the value of the information produced either to inform teacher judgment or to inform policy makers.

The report also explores the time taken to administer assessments by teachers and other school staff; what information parents will be given on a child’s results; the impact of the assessments, if any, on ICT in schools; whether local authority standardised assessments will be replaced by the national assessments as intended by the Government; and the overall cost of the assessment policy.

The role the assessments played in reducing the attainment gap was also explored, with the Committee noting that the Scottish Government’s decision to discontinue the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) will mean there is a gap of a few years where data is available to monitor progress.

The Committee has expressed concern that there appeared to be differing views amongst stakeholders regarding the original purpose of the assessments and whether this has evolved since their introduction. The Committee also heard differing evidence as to whether the SNSAs can fulfil the dual purpose of informing teaching practice and benchmark pupil performance.

The Committee is now asking the Scottish Government to give clearer guidance as to the role of the assessments as well as reassuring parents, pupils and indeed teachers, that the SNSAs are not high stakes – something underlined by the confusion over the purpose.

Committee Convener, Clare Adamson MSP said:

“There has been a lot of media and political attention regarding the introduction of SNSA and our Committee agreed to undertake an inquiry on the evidence base for their introduction as well as exploring why the decision was taken to move away from the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy. We also wanted to explore international comparisons to understand similar and differing approaches used elsewhere.

“We heard differing evidence from stakeholders as to their understanding of the purpose and reason for introduction and have asked the Government to clarify their intended use in Scottish Education.”


The SNSAs are a form of large scale standardised assessment intended to be taken nationally in all state schools. Introduced in the 2017—18 academic year, the assessments are taken by students in state primary schools and secondary schools once in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

The SNSAs are completed by children online. Teachers can access and analyse the results of the assessment straight away. The assessments are adaptive, meaning a child is presented with different questions as they move through the assessment, based on the answers they have given earlier in the assessment.

The SSLN was a national survey that produced national level data. It ran using a sample of pupils and teachers from primary and secondary state schools and also independent schools. The Scottish Government discontinued it in 2017.

Find out more information on the Committee’ work on standardised assessment on the Committee’s webpages. 




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