Monday 23 March 2009

How to reform tests

I have a piece in the latest edition of The House Magazine, continuing my arguments in favour of a reformed testing system in schools. Here's an extract:

Testing has – with regular inspections and pupil-level targets – been part of a cultural shift in schools that has brought real improvements. But it is not just through greater accountability that testing has helped improvement. The data from tests – combined with the power of computers – has given teachers access to data that they can use to ensure that they get the most out of individual pupils. By seeing what the best students in similar circumstances can achieve, they can lift expectations in their own classroom.

There are still ways to simplify the tests whilst keeping the level of independent scrutiny that they provide for every primary school. First, teachers could still be encouraged to enter pupils for tests when they are ready. Pupils should not be prevented from scoring higher-than-average grades on the papers, but many might be tested at age 10 rather than 11. In schools that devote months to the preparation for tests to the exclusion of other subjects – and those that do are rarely the best schools – this should allow a better curriculum mix.

Second, marking pressure could be reduced by confining external marking to English and Maths, leaving Science to internal assessment. Those are clearly the most important subjects for any child if they are to access the rest of the curriculum. Third, there may be a place for multiple choice questions in Grammar, Spelling and Mathematics, which can be marked by computer, though there must still be a place for independently marked writing tests.

Whatever happens, we cannot afford to abandon the level of independent scrutiny that testing provides for primary schools. Without it, we will fail future generations of children.

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