Friday, February 06, 2009

Testing, testing… is the government listening?

The National Association of Head Teachers’ surveyed over 10,000 parents on the issue of national tests, 85% thought that the current system should be abolished and 71% wanted to see an end to league tables of schools. A recent report by the Children’s Society noted that schools contributed to problems of low self-esteem by introducing too much testing. “There is a clear danger that education becomes less stimulating when the main incentive is to learn things because they will be tested, and when the fear of failure is a major consideration.”

The continual mantra from the government is ‘standards’. However, almost every academic report or survey has shown the the rise in ‘standards’ is a result of ‘teaching to test’ and the high stakes nature of the tests (principally the link to Ofsted inspections).

There is another way. In the 1970s and 1980s sample cohort testing was used to monitor standards. 1.5% of children were tested and as questions could be repeated, a clear pattern of attainment and children’s understanding could be marked out.

Not that testing is ever fool proof, it mainly measures the lowest academic functions, GCSE exams are an exercise in mnemonics (memory) not intelligence. If you have a photographic memory you may be an excellent quiz player, it doesn’t mean you are creative or intelligent.

With the news that Carol Vorderman is leading the Conservative think-tank on maths teaching, we get the newspaper headlines about ‘success’ amongst pupils in Japan and Korea. That’s fine if you want young children to work for hours after school in exam cramming factories. On some occasions they can’t leave until they have passed a test. So in Japan there is the phenomenon of the hikikomori, where adolescents (mainly boys) lock themselves in their bedrooms for years on end.

Will the government listen to Head Teachers? I wouldn’t bet on it.


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