Archive for September, 2008

Balls on testing

On the Andrew Marr show on BBC on Sunday (7th September) Schools Secretary Ed Balls was questioned about the future of SATS in light of the recent marking fiasco. He made it clear that whilst some changes around the detail may take place, testing itself was here to stay partly because in his view ‘testing is a natural part of the learning process’.

I find this view a little disturbing. I do support the idea of formative assessment, when used in the right circumstances, as a part of the learning process. But I don’t think that is what Ed Balls was talking about. He expressed the general thinking that tests in certain subjects (specifically reading, writing and maths) should only be taken when an individual is adjudged to be ready for it (rather than everyone taking the same test at the same time).

On the face of it this sounds interesting enough and does feed into the personalisation agenda. The trouble is it doesn’t go anything like far enough. For a start, it seems to me that if an individual can be reliably adjudged, through some continuous assessment means, to be ready to take a particular test and achieve a particular level there is little point in then making them take the test other than to get affirmation that the assessment processes were working (which can be achieved in other ways).

In his interview he refers to the continuation of tests continuing to deliver ‘objectivity for parents’ but didn’t explain what such objectivity actually did for parents. Sure enough when the SATS results are delivered parents may get some sense of satisfaction if their child has achieved high levels, or the opposite if their child has only managed low levels. But very few parents would know what that actually means in relation to the childs development as an individual so pretty meaningless really.

Mr Balls also refers to the newly conceived testing regime meaning that pupils would have ‘two chances per year to take the (new) tests’.  I don’t know whether this means that a pupil could take the test once and then take it again to try and improve their marks, or whether there would be two ‘test sessions’ at different times that pupils could be directed towards depending on their perceived levels of achievement.

Whatever it means it is simply a tinkering around the edges and not close to the radical thinking that must be applied if the opportunities offered through digital technology are really to be realised. Far from testing being a natural part of the learning process, I believe testing has become an obsession that attempts to impose a uniformity of desired outcome that is the antithesis of what education should be about.

Consider this vision set out as long ago as 1967 in the Plowden report:

‘A school is not merely a teaching shop, it must transmit values and attitudes. It is a community in which children learn to live first and foremost as children and not as future adults. … The school sets out … to devise the right environment for children, to allow them to be themselves and to develop in the way and at the pace appropriate to them. It tries to equalise opportunities and compensate for handicaps. It lays special stress on individual discovery, on first-hand experience and on opportunities for creative work. It insists that knowledge does not fall into neatly separate compartments and that work and play are not opposite but complementary.’

I don’t see any of this being delivered by Mr Balls tinkering and that’s what worries me.

September 12, 2008 at 12:43 pm Leave a comment

Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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