Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

29 Nov

“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” – Albert Einstein

This morning I recorded an interview with BBC Radio Wales on this story that children are not test-ready in Wales.  While it is still active you can hear it here. (37:10 in)  Ironically as I was driving in to the BBC they were playing a clip (22:40 in) of an exchange teacher from Finland who was shocked and concerned at the levels of pressure placed on teachers and pupils in Wales as she observed a classroom continually being directed to undertake work that was designed to focus them on passing a test.

I’ve previously blogged a few times on my cynicism that a regime of testing children will lead to better outcomes.  I continue to remain unconvinced that creating a generation of pupils who can pass tests will actually result in a generation that are better educated.  Improvement in the former does not necessarily mean an improvement in the latter.  In fact, excessive testing could very well result in undermined confidence; narrowing the curriculum; reduced independent thinking and other negatives that hinder the educational attainment of students.

We should not be surprised that this pre-test has thrown up some issues.  By their very nature pilot programmes will do just that.  The Acumina report itself makes a number of recommendations regarding the format of the tests; the preparation materials; the marking schemes and issues relating to learners with additional needs that those behind the test will have to take under careful consideration.  We should also not forget that this pre-testing was done with a small sample of pupils.

That being said, it is right to look at some of the underlying issues that may have come up regarding numeracy skills and their application, for example issues around the proficiency of students to use a calculator.  Are these anomalies thrown up as a result of a small group of individuals that have gone through the pre-tests? Or are they indicative of a wider concern?  That is something we must all evaluate.  However the top line of the report, as indicated by the BBC’s headline, ‘Pupils have no idea how to take maths tests,’ relates to how ‘test-ready’ pupils in Wales are.  If ever there was a headline that will lead to teaching to the test this is it.  As Gary Brace, Chief Executive of the GTCW said on twitter, “teaching children how to do well in these tests runs counter to their stated purpose.”

I am really concerned that instead of focussing on the knowledge and application of numeracy skills we will in fact see a rise in the focus of test preparation.  This is of course completely contradictory to the wider education approach in Wales.

On one hand we have the Foundation Phase, focused on an informal learning through play approach.  We are also undergoing a consultation on the curriculum that is suggesting that essential skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking, are to become statutory.  However, while those policies aim to make Welsh schools incubators for independent thinking the methodology of creating testing laboratories with pupils acting as guinea pigs for the PISA panic that has set in, creates a real danger of establishing competing aims that will undoubtably lead to both styles of education failing.  It really is hard to see how pupils will stand out if we are consistently training them to just fit in.  As education author Alfie Kohn said, “every hour spent on such exam preparation is an hour not spent helping students to become critical, creative, curious learners.”

The BBC online report following my interview can be found here.

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