Posts filed under ‘Testing’
You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Lembit Opik who so unexpectedly lost his seat in the election. But only a bit. Whilst I am sure it is no picnic for him, I have no doubt that when he has finished crying on a Cheeky Girls shoulder he will pick up some tasty work, Portillo like, in the media. He is quite high profile already, as though preparing for just this moment. He has already been on ‘Have I got news for you’ just hours after his fall and this morning on breakfast TV, not just once, but on two different slots.
Michael Portillo’s political demise all those years ago has, it seems, been voted as peoples’ third favourite moment of the 20th century. By his own admission his notoriety at the time has enabled him to reinvent himself and carve out a very nice, and no doubt lucrative, career in the media. If we’re not very careful we are in danger of even calling him a ‘national treasure’ (although on reflection perhaps a step too far).
Lembit does not have the same level of notoriety although his high profile womanising will do him no harm. He is sufficiently known, though, I think to be a prime candidate for picking up some very nice media jobbies, thank you very much, not to mention the autobiography, the diaries!!)
Whilst Lembit has been replaced as MP for Montgomeryshire, it is also no picnic for many head teachers of primary schools who are facing the ignominy of being replaced, at least temporarily, if they boycott the KS 2 SAT’s that are due to be taken this week. Those heads who are participating in the boycott are doing so for very sound, deeply felt educational reasons. The nub of this as one primary head interviewed this morning put it is that she simply did not feel that a 45 minute exam in any way reflected a child’s achievements over their previous 8 years schooling.
Any child that does not do well in their SAT’s knows it, and starts their secondary schooling with that blot on the landscape. This can’t help but affect that child’s confidence, the position they occupy in secondary school, and the view their new teachers have of them. Where there is setting at a secondary school the SAT’s results contribute to what set a child might be put in.
If they are put in top set they will probably feel quite good about themselves (as will their proud parents) although their can also be pressures on them to maintain that position. If they are put in the set below top set, well they are not quite good enough really, are they? If they are put in bottom set, then that means not up to much really, pretty worthless.
We do not literally believe those judgements, or at least we would not admit to it, but a child does. This leads to hundreds and thousands of school children starting the very scary and life changing journey into secondary education already with a chip on their shoulder, already disadvantaged, already with lowered expectations. No picnic at all.
It is in recognition of this, and of the fact that scrapping SAT’s does not mean scrapping ‘assessment’ as such (there are very many robust means of assessing a child progress) that those heads participating in the boycott are doing so. Rather than analysing the legal position of a boycott, or threatening to replace participating heads, it seems to me that the government would benefit from listening properly to the very cogent arguments being proffered.
One reason, I suspect, that the boycott appears to be somewhat patchy is that there seems to be no real political strength apparent in teachers unions. This is typified by a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when I heard on the news this morning that the NUT was holding a ‘protest picnic’ on the issue of KS2 SAT’s. Well, that will show them, won’t it!!!
So no need to worry Ed Balls, Michael Gove, or David Laws (or whatever combination of the three wins influence over the coming days) when it comes to dealing with the NUT, it is a picnic!
A couple of weeks ago I tweeted about my 12 year old son having been told by his science teacher that the homework he had handed in was good, but that he would have got more marks if he found out more stuff from the internet.
The next day he came home with the prohibition notice pictured above. ‘DISQUALIFICATION’ if caught in exams with mobile phones, ipods, MP3/MP4 players or any products with an electronics communication/storage device or digital facility.
So if students use certain digital tools to gather information in the first place, as they are encouraged to do, they are disqualified from using them in an exam situation. All of which highlights one of the big problems with exams. If you happen not to be able to remember stuff you won’t do well. This is nothing to do with understanding. It’s simply memory testing, which isn’t real knowledge.
How refreshing then that in Denmark they are considering allowing wired computers with internet access to be used during exams ( http://tinyurl.com/otvrhw). This is to allow students to look up relevant facts during the exam.
Of course, it is immediately pointed out that:
“There are a number of potential pitfalls, however, not least protecting against plagiarism and the problem of students lifting information from online sources to pad out work”.
It seems that in Denmark, as well as here in the UK we assume young people will want to cheat, so guarding against this becomes an overriding concern. How trusting of our young people is that? There are all sorts of ways of guarding against this, and I do hope that these concerns don’t get in the way of this enlightened initiative.
Can’t see it happening in the UK though, not for many light years anyway. Apart from the fact that our mistrust of young people is very deep rooted, we just love exams, labouring as we do under the misapprehension that somehow exam results indicate something of a child’s understanding or abilities and can be used as a means of perpetuating a two tier system of haves and have nots.
Last night my 11 year old son told me that he had gone from hating history at school to loving it. When I asked him why, he said that he now had a good teacher. I haven’t yet quizzed him, as I will, on his perceptions of what was bad about the previous teaching and what is now good, but it is interesting that he makes that distinction. In my view teaching in a way that is interesting and motivating is not just desirable, but should be required of every teacher. I admire and respect teachers for undertaking a difficult job and when it is right in enhancing a child’s life. But I abhor bad teaching because of the serious harm it can do.
If we want to know what is good teaching or bad teaching we just have to talk to the young people who are being taught. They know what they like and don’t like, they know what switches them on and what turns them off. And we should listen to what they have to tell us about this and do something about it, even when we hear stuff outside our comfort zones.
As parents we celebrate each child’s individuality even if it’s only to extent of ‘he’s got his fathers eyes, but his mother’s nose’. Yet we force them to endure an education that expects uniformity, that expects an 11 year old to achieve the same standards in the same subjects as their 12 year old mates, or a class of 30 to express equal interest in all things.
We do this not because of any considered philosophy of education, but purely through means of practicality. How else can we ‘control’ a class of 30, a year of 120, but by imposing strict criteria on required outcomes.
My son also recently had a science test coming up and was told by his teacher to revise for it. That’s all. Not any guidance of how to revise, what to revise, even where to look for advice. Just ‘go away and revise’. Oh yes. There was some advice to try BBC bitesize, but not to do everything there because it was not all relevant.
That evening I caught him in our front room aimlessly flicking through the various folders of the work he had undertaken during the year not really knowing where to start, which things to concentrate on.
And then he asked me if I would test him so he could get an idea of what he knew best and importantly what he knew least. This is ‘assessment for learning’, a concept that he arrived at of his own volition, understanding that finding out the gaps in his own understanding could give him a structure for revision.
Unfortunately his teacher had not had the foresight to arm his pupils with some past tests in order that they could test their understanding in this way, but we were able to find some appropriate stuff online. In fact BBC bitesize was not the most helpful or structured. Many more structured resources were to be found on other sites simply by Googling ‘Year 7 science tests’.
Why do I say all this? Two reasons. Firstly on the question of practicality we do have the opportunity to really, seriously deliver (or I prefer to say ‘allow’) ‘personalised learning’ by appropriate use of digital technology. Going online to find appropriate revision materials is just the tip of an enormous iceberg.
Secondly, young people are wholly capable of being properly engaged in the debate about their own learning. So let’s ask them, listen to them, trust them, believe them, and act on what we hear.
And instead of just fiddling around the edges let’s do it now before they lose interest and before the global warmed digital iceberg disappears.
In their wisdom Ofsted have decided they are going to make it harder for schools to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating by placing greater emphasis on raw exam results.
What a great idea. Just when we are being lulled into some sense of hope that the general exam regime is being relaxed in favour of other forms of assessment Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert takes a significant step backwards.
“Our focus is on getting a better deal for children and young people,” Ms Gilbert said. I don’t suppose the young people themselves will see it that way. I don’t suppose anyone has bothered to ask them!
Anyone who watches ‘Mock the week’ on BBC 1 (and Dave) will know that there is a section of the programme where the stand up comedians come up with ‘things you are unlikely to hear’ in certain situations. Here is my version:
Things you are unlikely to hear young people say when asked whether they would like exam results to be even more important than they are considered now.
‘It’s a great idea. I don’t think I suffer anything like enough stress at school at the moment’
‘It’s a great idea. It will help teachers just focus on the things we need to do for the exams.’
‘It’s a great idea. I’m enjoying school far too much at the moment’
‘It’s a great idea. Confirms that people who aren’t good at exams are failures’
‘It’s a great idea. Means that schools will do less creative stuff.’
‘It’s a great idea. Means I’ll do much less of the stuff at school that I really enjoy’
‘It’s a great idea. I get very nervous about exams and am not very good at them. This will help me to pull myself together’.
‘It’s a great idea. I burst into tears before my last exam. Hopefully this will mean more people will join me and burst into tears also.’
Why not add yours, either in reply to this post, or @MickLandmann on Twitter, and I will compile them all and do my best to get them to Ms Gilbert.
The government’s response to the NUT threat to boycott SATS in 2010, supported by the headmasters union, is to say that this would be illegal. No looking at the issues wondering if they have a point, no concerns that if such a rather wishy washy union as the NUT are proposing action this may reflect some serious concerns.
The basis of the teacher’s discontent is their reality that they spend too much time preparing 10 and 11 year olds for their Year 6 SATS at the expense of a great deal other of the teaching they should be doing.
This isn’t a new criticism of the SATS but I suspect this issue is rather coming to a head (pun unintended) because there is no sign that Ed Balls and his lot have any intention of doing anything about this (aside from saying that the tests are ‘not set in stone’ which has created great excitement amongst many of those who wish to see the SATS scrapped).
The great opportunity to have scrapped the Year 6 SATS at the same time as the Year 9 SATS were scrapped has been missed and only strengthened the view that the overriding reason for scrapping the Year 9 SATS was to take the weight off the massive marking task that has proved so controversial. So all this leaves things kind of in limbo.
In a recent discussion on Radio 4 Today programme about the proposed boycott some interesting things were said which pandered to some myths about the tests. Here are just three of them.
- ‘We need tests because we want young people to be able to read and write’. WRONG. You have to have good teaching in order to maintain standards. Tests ain’t teaching.
- ‘You have to have SATS in order to have some measure of a child’s progress’. WRONG. There are all sorts of means of assessing a child’s progress. It is often mistakenly believed that to be against SATS is to be against any forms of measuring progress.
- Young people need to get used to taking tests for later on when they take their GCSE’s and A levels etc.. WRONG. My view is that all exams should be scrapped, but given that that is unlikely, certainly in the medium term, there are many ways of preparing for later exams that do not have to start 5 years in advance.
In my mind there is no doubt that the SATS should be scrapped forthwith. One of the things that is holding things up, though, is the fact that this would send out an extremely significant signal that real change is afoot, that the old obsession with testing and league tables is coming to an end.
For politicians who generally can only see 5 minutes ahead and who fuel such obsessions in the mistaken belief that this addresses accountability, taking an action that in fact points the way towards a new world that may exist the day after tomorrow is extremely uncomfortable.
Yet, there is a growing feeling of inevitability in this. How long can Ed Balls and his colleagues ignore the elephant?
Here’s another interesting angle on the debate about SATS. According to an article in the Economist I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told research at Pennsylvania University and Cornell University has shown that children of poor families learn less well than children of middle class families because their working memories, critical in learning, have smaller capacities.
This is not put down to poverty per se, but to stress, presumably induced by being poor. I know some high achieving children who come from poor families. I also know some children of well off families who undoubtedly undergo a great deal of stress, nor because they are poor but for a whole variety of other reasons.
So if stress is the issue as is suggested then one would imagine that this would permeate the whole spectrum of wealth.
And if stress is the issue this would be a very strong argument for ridding our kids of the stress of sitting SATS tests, which, if the research is correct, can only get in the way of their learning.
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.