Testing Times

22 Jul


I’ve used the above cartoon before after seeing it during a lecture by Pasi Sahlberg. I think it very simply highlights some of the unfair, if unintended, problems with standardised testing.

I’ve recently been reading the excellent critique of standardised testing, ‘Education by Numbers; The Tyranny of Testing’, by Warwick Mansell. While the content is focussed largely on the testing regime of English schools during the New Labour years, the warnings it offers about the impacts of these policies are very apt for us in Wales.  One of the key questions asked in the book, which is often echoed amongst practicing teachers, is “where is the independent evidence that hyper-accountability has improved education?”  After several cross examinations of results the chapter dedicated to this question concludes;

“Pursuing results almost as ends in themselves has been forced on schools, in their desperation to fulfil the requirements of hyper-accountability.  But this grades race is ultimately self-defeating.  It does not guarantee better-educated pupils, just better statistics for schools and the government.”

This is a very important point.  In Wales we do of course have this style of tests for literacy and numeracy for all pupils from year 2 – 9. Pasi Sahlberg has already warned it’s destined to fail.  While it is inevitable that schools and pupils, and potentially the Welsh Government, will be judged on an annual basis on performance in these tests I’m not convinced that the abilities of children will improve as a result.  As the saying goes “weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it.”

There is a lot that can be done to support teachers and pupils in improving numeracy and literacy standards.  Some of it is being implemented by the Welsh Government.  Some of it is not.  However, it is hard to find many, if any, teachers that are working on the front line in classrooms who believe that these tests will contribute positively to that aspiration.  At least now they have seen the tests in action.  While I have no idea of the results of this years standaridsed tests, and can’t predict the future, I would suggest that in time results will improve.  Will that mean that standards have improved?  Possibly, but the reality in regards to the test scores is that children and teachers ability to work towards the tests will be the determining factor in achieving the highest scores.

NUT Cymru have been consulting with our members and the feedback has been enlightening. From the impact of the tests on parental relationships, content, workload and most importantly how the tests have been received by pupils and what the pedagogical impact has been, the results have been wide-ranging. What has been pleasing for those that have opposed the introduction of these tests in Wales is the commitment given in a recent Ministerial Statement that the new Education Minister is willing to look constructively at feedback. While this may not, at least in the short-term, lead to the tests being abolished, it will hopefully address some of the specific concerns about the implementation and nature of these specific tests.

For further reading there are two really excellent articles on this theme on the CEA website here and here.

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