Wednesday, May 14, 2008

School tests aren’t damaging pupils, our responses are

Being stuck in the car yesterday it was impossible to ignore all the tripe that was being put forward in the great schools testing debate:

The national testing system in English schools is being misused to the detriment of children's education, says a report from a committee of MPs.
The Commons schools, children and families committee says teachers spend too much time "teaching to the test

I don't see what is wrong with "teaching to the test", as long as the tests cover the entire curriculum. Teachers are given a wide ranging curriculum to teach and all things being equal they know that any part of that subject can be tested. For their own benefit they need to ensure that all their pupils have grasped the entire curriculum and the quickest way to do this is to use past tests. The results of these will soon identify weaknesses.

You could argue that the curriculum is wrong or narrow of deficient in some other way, but that's not the issue that was debated yesterday. You could also argue that only siting tests isn't productive, and I'll agree with that, but this isn't she same as saying that the tests per se aren't working.

Another area where pupils are put under undue pressure is parents who seem to think that SATs scores are somehow going to get their 7 and 11 YO's in to university. If they parents start getting anxious then the kids do and get lower scores. Not good for the children or the schools.

We also seem to forget that SATs aren't about testing children, they are about testing schools, and this may put a bit more pressure on teachers, but that is their problem not the pupils'. If teachers are found to be putting undue pressure on pupils to do well then they aren't good teachers and should be removed from the job, which is part of the point of testing in the first place.

One other issue which was raised is that there are too many exams, and I have some sympathy with this. The Sprog seemed to be doing exams continually from 14 when he started his GCSE's to 18 when he finished his A levels. This put him off school and he decided not to go to university. But this over examining is the fault of the SATs it's a consequence of changing from the O level with its one exam per subject at the end of 2 years to continual assessment with exams at the end of each topic, and lets not forget this was done to help girls who struggle with the single exam concept. AS levels haven't helped either.

Throughout the whole debate not one person came up with a compelling reason why we shouldn't be measuring school's performance in this way. There was some waffle about continual assessments and monitoring teachers, but it was more about taking pressure off the teachers. It was interesting that one headmaster from a "good" school reckoned that his kids didn't even know it was happening until they walked in to the exam room. Good man.

Until someone comes up with a better way of benchmarking schools then SATs should be here to stay and it would be in everyone's interest if that was accepted and we had less fuss about them every year.


Vindico said...

Agree. Exams may not be perfect but they are the best way we have found to date of assessing pupil performance.

I used to get frustrated at school, particularly at A-Level, where i found myself being taught how to answer exam questions and 'exam technique' rather than being taught subject. I used to get annoyed with my teachers and told them on several occasions that I wanted to learn the subject, now how to pass the exam. Needless to say I used to get bemused looks!

The Great Simpleton said...

But learning exam technique and learning teh subject needn't be mutually exclusive.

I remeber when I was about 13 doing levers in physics. I hadn't really followed the work and made a mess of a weekly exam. When the teacher sat down with me he showed me how to answer the question in a logical way that not only explained the subject but taught e how to expelain to an examiner that I know the subject.

That was onne of the most valuable lessons I ever had and when I went to to my HND I reckon it was worth between 5% and 10% in every exam.

I do accept that just repeitive answering of exam questions isn't good though.