Sunday, August 20, 2006

Assessment rant

Today in the Observer was a headline about raising standards in schools in English and Maths by making the exams harder! How does this work? Do highjumpers get better if you raise the bar? Why can't the government see that there is a huge difference between measuring attainment and raising it? In fact, many of the ways in which we measure attainment are actually counter-productive because the results are high stakes matters and when this happens, people "cheat" to try to achieve. "Cheat" is a harsh word, but the recent furor about coursework proves the point. Teaching to tests is also a result of this high stakes culture. Many secondary teachers complain that the SATS results they get from primary schools do not represent the real ability of the pupils, but then they do the exactly the same for KS3 SATS and GCSE. This is entirely understandable in this high stakes culture. There is pressure on the school managers to improve results, which they pass on to the teachers. There is pressure on the pupils to be seen as high attainers, so the teachers do everything they can to ensure the pupils get good results (they call this "spoonfeeding"), but then they complain that pupils are not capable of independent learning. But teaching methods do not encourage pupils to become independent learners. Why? Because teachers spoonfeed pupils so they will get good test results. Attainment is being inaccurately measured, NOT raised. The government talk about their support for personalised learning and assessment for learning but singularly fail to back it up with actions. I was delighted to read that Dylan William has returned to us from the US. Can he persuade the powers that be that things need to change direction? Rant terminates.

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