11-plus test provider goes to tribunal over secret scoring methods

One of the country’s largest assessment companies is being taken to tribunal after refusing to release the details of the 11-plus test it runs for grammar school entry.

The Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), which is part of Durham University, will face a parent angered by the “unnecessary secrecy” around how the 11-plus is marked in a hearing in London on Thursday.

James Coombs asked for candidates’ test scores from CEM to see how examiners calculated marks under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2016, but his request was turned down on the grounds it threatened commercial confidentiality. The Information Commissioner’s Office subsequently backed CEM, and agreed the information was commercially sensitive.

Coombs will now represent himself at tribunal against the university and the ICO. Schools Week understands the case centres on whether sharing the scoring method would mean CEM’s test would no longer be “tutor-proof”.

Melissa Benn, chair of Comprehensive Future, which campaigns against grammar schools, said “no child should be defined by a test score”, but when the method used to arrive at that score was obscured, “the whole thing becomes a farce”.

She accused commercial test companies of providing limited information about the tests and “hoping nobody asks awkward information”.

“We know children are judged with just a few quick questions in 90 minutes or so. It’s perfectly possible the test companies are hiding the true scores so no-one sees how limited these tests really are,” she added.

The 11-plus involves a verbal reasoning test, a maths test, an English test and a non-verbal reasoning test, which covers puzzles using pictures and diagrams.

The test is supposed to be “tutor-proof”, but controversy has long surrounded the content of the 11-plus, and the practice of coaching pupils on it.

Two years ago, CEM faced questions after it was paid £1 million to create a “tutor-proof” test which was found to have made little difference to the number of state school primary pupils accessing secondary grammar schools.

At the time, CEM said was too early to judge the test’s social impact.

Regarding his court challenge to the company, Coombs said he “wasn’t asking to see test questions” or “any sensitive information”, and has instead “just asked for information about how they arrive at the final scores for the test”.

“No one understands this process and the reasons for hiding it don’t make any sense,” he argued.

CEM and the University of Durham were approached for comment.