Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Where to with standardised testing?

My concern, after the last four posts, is that the trend is towards, not away, from standardised testing, in spite of educators’ awareness that they don’t work. Klenowski and Wyatt-Smith (2012) call for several changes to the way they are administered. Firstly, they argue that testing authorities should acknowledge what they can and can’t achieve with tests. Secondly, they call for teachers to take a more active role in making judgements about students’ achievements, in more complex and nuanced ways than just by a test. They also argue, and this is for me key, that literacy and numeracy skills are not removed from the curriculum areas in which they are embedded. How can literacy and numeracy can be tested independent of other knowledge? And, surely literacy and numeracy is not separate from the Arts, Sciences, History, Geography, Drama you get the idea, in which it is practiced.

I don’t think we’ll ever get away from standardised tests, I think we need to moderate their influence and admit what they can and can’t do. I know it’s trite but, as Einstein is said to have said, although it wasn’t Einstein, it was actually William Bruce Cameron (1963, p. 13):

It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Surely, what’s true for sociologists is true for educators. And, just maybe, what we’re counting with standardised tests doesn’t count, but what we sacrifice for teaching to the tests just might.


4 Responses to “Where to with standardised testing?”

  1. kmcg2375

    I couldn’t agree more, especially with this question: ‘How can literacy and numeracy can be tested independent of other knowledge?’

    I’d add to this that it’s not just ‘other subjects’ that are effected and cast out of the picture by this trend. In English, which I teach, the focus on a narrow definition of ‘literacy’ and the obsession with teaching for NAPLAN is slowly but surely chipping away at the scope of what is covered in my subject. Wide reading is out; test practice is in.

    If I were a parent of a school child, I would INSIST that they be given alternative work to NAPLAN ‘practice tests’ when these are run in class. I would also seriously consider keeping my child home on NAPLAN testing day – unless I felt they really did need a diagnosis* of their skills.

    *to be clear, preparing for a test robs it of any diagnostic usefulness.

    • Rebecca English

      Amen to that kmcg2375! I totally agree, we have chosen a Steiner school for our child (soon to be children) and believe that their model of education, in which they have no place for standardised tests, is superior to the mainstream school system or prep-test-punish-prep-test-etc. If, however, she doesn’t want to do that, she’s welcome to have a chat about homeschool or another education option.

      • fat and forty

        We found that on paper Steiner schools looked fantastic, however, visiting the school, told a different story.

      • Rebecca English

        Interesting. We know some of the teachers at the Steiner we want to send our DD to. If it doesn’t work out, we can always homeschool her if she chooses it.

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