Tests and Factories

@Thanks2Teachers: #Teachers: As long as our schools are geared to THE TEST, we’ll be factory workers turning out standardized products. RESIST!

The above tweet has been doing the rounds all day. I just don’t get it, and I don’t agree with it. Schools have always ask students to sit tests, we’ve always had standardised (yes I’m British, we spell it with an ‘s’) public exams, and yet, whaddaya know, every student who emerges from school is a unique individual.

Yes I KNOW there are problems with the way tests are administered and used, read on.

The big standardised test argument is irritating because both sides are arguing cross-purposes.

Argument 1: “We must introduce standardised tests to ruthlessly exposes our education system’s strengths and weaknesses, to discover and promote teaching talent, and remove ineffective practice/practitioners”

  • True because: without a common standard assessment you cannot possibly make comparisons between different institutions. At the very least this needs to be moderated professional judgement with sampled common assessment. Otherwise people can, and will, hide behind well-meaning ineffective practice. A good school or teacher will generally produce the better test scores (although the reverse isn’t necessarily true)
  • False because: you cannot possibly use one single tool to enforce accountability, highlight good practice, allocate funding, and judge teaching ability. This will, obviously, lead to narrow teaching, lower standards, and low morale. One data point cannot make a complete judgement, no matter how much you want to believe in it.

Argument 2: “Standardised tests don’t measure learning, they are harming out students, and they do not show good teaching”

  • True because: in order to standardise the assessment it has to be relatively shallow, it can lead to narrowing of the curriculum, good test scores don’t always indicate good teachers, and bad test scores don’t always indicate poor teachers.
  • False because: if you teach a student well (i.e. deep understanding), this will almost certainly be reflected in their test scores. Also life is full of tests and assessments, students need to know how to deal with them – this is a help, not a hinderance. If a school/district/student is repeatedly getting  poor scores it indicates that support is needed – this is also useful. Finally, good teachers do tend to get good test scores. Well-meaning but less effective teachers, however, may not.

People who are calling for standardised testing genuinely want to find out where the system is failing students so that they can be helped. People who are opposing standardised testing genuinely don’t want inappropriate and demoralizing use of narrow statistics to judge a broad education. Stop shouting at each other (and definitely don’t sling mud)

So why not have both?

  1. Use standardised tests as one diagnostic tool, backed up with randomly sampled assessments/interviews/observations. Give teacher the ability to award their students a moderated, professionally-judged grade, and give this equal weighting with the test.
  2. Look at a large number of factors, including attendance, behaviour, etc., to identify areas requiring support.
  3. Don’t judge teacher effectiveness using only this same testing system. Use peer-observation, student voice surveys, portfolio’s of evidence, and a wide array of assessment data, standardised and otherwise, current and historical.

I’m still developing these ideas in my head, and I’m open to suggestion. However, I suspect that I shall continue to be angry if I read

@joe_bower: “Tests and grades don’t wreck learning” is the equivalent of saying “Guns don’t kill people”.”,

as well as

@ShapeyFiend‎ Easy way to have best education in europe: fire the worst 10pc andteachers assistants. Class size doest matter if you’ve decent teachers.”

Both are, clearly, absolute nonsense.

2 Replies to “Tests and Factories”

  1. Thanks for sharing this post on Twitter – I think you’ve raised some powerful points. One issue that emerges for me is to wonder who is making the arguments that you are refuting. I’ve seen such claims on many websites and there are whole books devoted to refuting claims about tests. However, I’ve begun to suspect that the “they” we rail against in education policy issues are they same “they” they we tried to use to convince our mothers to let us get away with something. Especially with Argument #1 – If that argument comes out of the mouth of an educator, I’d be stunned. If a politician said it, I would be disappointed but not surprised.

    1. Hi Jenifer, thanks for your post. I’ve modified the quotes at the end to use actual tweets I’ve seen. Definitely sentiments that are around. Argument #1 was easy to find a quote for, argument #2 was more elusive actually – surprisingly.

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