Thursday, 17 July 2008

Testing times

Clearly, ETS have made a hash of their contract for the national tests, and should not be able to keep it in the future. Of course, the government cannot say so as Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary demanded on Today this morning, but there must be no question of their ineptitude being rewarded. But, what then? The answer is certainly not, as the more excitable teaching union leaders mught wish, to scrap external marking for national tests. Particularly at 11 - but also at 14 - they are a vital progress check not just for pupils but for teachers, and it is extraordinary that anyone could believe that the only check on literacy and numeracy standards on primary schools should be done by the schools and teachers themselves.

There are, however, serious issues about the future of the tests which go beyond the immediate question of the ETS incompetence. The first is whether the current plan for progress tests - where pupils sit 'level tests' that can only be passed to that level - should continue, and whether a simpler form of flexibility might not make more sense? Plenty of schools enter their pupils for Key Stage 3 tests at 13 rather than 14. Why not encourage the same flexibility in primaries where they want it, but keep the existing tests. The system would simply find it too hard to deal with the currently planned progress tests.

And there may also be a need for a more fundamental look at the content of the English and Maths tests, in particular, to ensure they are testing what we need to test, and giving secondary schools the information they need (too many feel the need to use the London reading test to supplement key stage tests). But above all - as this blog has argued before - we need to be clear that testing is here to stay, because of its importance to accountability and pupil progress. On that, there should be no compromise.

1 comment:

JoeN said...

What I find most interesting about this entire mess is the light it throws on quite a few areas of educational change in the UK. The fundamental differences between a US examination culture dominated by multiple-choice and the reproduction of "correct" information, without little if any demonstration of applied knowledge, and our own: which has a much stronger tradition of applied knowledge, were bound to have led at the very least to confusion, and at worst, as we now know, chaos. As anyone who has spent more than a flying visit to the States knows, US and UK cultures are radically different and some educational ideas are very bad travelers. The question I would ask is why didn't someone involved in the selection of ETS know this?