Reading skills test improved to prevent results manipulation by teachers

Six-year-old students in England are required to take a reading skills test after one year of schooling. This test aims at identifying those students struggling with reading. In the summer of 2013, a suspiciously large percentage of students got just the score necessary for passing the reading skills test. As a result, the Department for Education is withholding next year’s pass score to ensure teachers don’t help students get the passing mark and thus undermine the validity of the test and thwart the purpose of the assessment.

The students are expected to take a reading test that assesses their ability to phonetically decode words and nonsense words so as to check whether a student is capable of phonetic knowledge transference. For 2013, the young students had to decode 32 out of 40 words correctly in order to pass and be considered as having sufficient reading skills.

Fears of teachers manipulating the test scores arose since out of 600,000 students taking the test, only 1% achieved 31/40 and failed, while 7% got 32/40, the bare minimum for passing the test. The Department for Education worries that teachers are helping students so that their school’s overall performance is boosted. To avoid future misrepresented scores, next year the government will reveal the passing score only after all students have taken the test.

Whether this modification will prevent the manipulation of next year’s results remains to be seen. In addition to withholding the official pass score, stricter proctoring standards might incentivize teachers to comply with the testing procedures and deter future test manipulation.