23rd November 2016

Three Assessment Myths

Author: John Coe, National Association for Primary Education

On 3 May 2016 a new chapter was opened in the story of state education. On that day, up and down the country, thousands of parents and carers kept their children out of school. Teachers had not prompted them; this was an entirely spontaneous act that needed no more than a Facebook page to generate action. A message of “enough is enough” was sent loud and clear to the Government: stop the incessant testing that is hurting our children and find another way of assessing their progress.

As we join parents in attacking the testing that is blighting our children’s learning, we have to expose the three myths about assessment that are assiduously promoted by the Government.

We hear that “harder tests raise standards of achievement”, yet the absolute reverse is true. When you pitch the level of difficulty so far above the heads of children that half of them fail, you separate assessment from the act of learning itself. In this way you distort school life and reduce it to mere preparation for the next test. Such testing lowers true standards of achievement.

Too often a line is spun that “test results are an accurate measure of progress through primary school”. But a test is only a snapshot of performance at a particular moment, and even then only of what is inherently measurable. Testing reveals only limited aspects of human development, because performance in a test cannot show how far knowledge and skill are embedded in the individual or drawn upon in real activity.

Finally, we’ve all been told how “teacher assessments can’t be trusted”. This particular myth reflects the general lack of trust in the profession, evidenced by politicians as they use children’s test results to hold schools accountable. In fact we can trust teacher assessments a good deal more than the scores achieved in ‘one shot’ tests of children – who are coached to perform and then, inevitably, forget.

From now on we must work with parents and carers, as they begin to learn of the damage done to their children’s lives by the current testing regime. With them we will find a better way to judge children’s progress. We choose to teach young children and are fortunate in receiving all the human rewards that such work brings; yet when we assess we have to reach into the mind of the child and see them more dispassionately. It is indeed a formidable professional challenge and we will not fail.

This blog is an extract of an article from the forthcoming Reclaiming Schools publication ‘The Mismeasurement of Learning’. To order a copy of the publication please email primary@nut.org.uk


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