Saturday, December 19, 2009

Standardised Tests

Take a hypothetical example – a cross bar and a government edict that every child of a certain age must jump cleanly over it. Some will achieve it first attempt. With coaching most will over time meet the standard. Some never will. If they were a factory product for such incapability they could be discarded. But they are young citizens with needs. Further, some of those who will reach the standard have, to attain that level, let other needed skills atrophy, how to swim, how to catch a ball, how to be a team member.

Take an actual situation. With the commendable aim of raising standards in the so-called three ‘r’s’ reading ‘riting, ‘rithmetic’ Education Minister Anne Tolley has introduced standardised tests. Sounds good. Why then are the teachers so ‘agin’ it. It’s because they know from experience it’s not that simple. Tests measure achievement, they do not reveal value-addition.

Indeed, the American experience is that such testing is counter-productive. Teachers teach to the tests. Amongst those who fly through some are not challenged to do much better. Meanwhile the brand of failure is stamped on those who do not reach the standard.

Despite the best will in the world not to do so, these tests will I'm sure be used to rank young people, and schools. Schools reflect their catchment area. Educational league tables are confusing in that achievement need not reflect effort. Furthermore the tests themselves are untested. They will need fine-tuning and callibrating. At the least there should have been national trials to fine-tune and make necessary adjustments.

I am now too far removed to make judgements about the contemporary classroom. But I have enough experience to know that damning reports from bureaucrats supporting a minister’s cause are not necessarily unbiased. Equally I know that strident calls from hotheads in the profession don’t help. Jargon and rhetoric obscure issues. There are many ways of enhancing education. Let’s explore them together. Entrenched warfare between the politicians and the profession will only damage the learning of the youngsters in our schools.

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