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School testing regime attacked

September 15th, 2007


Today’s Independent runs this headline on page 27, heading an article by their Education Editor Richard Garner on Dr Paul Kelley’s new book Making Minds.

The Independent quotes Dr Kelly on the SATs sat by every student at 7, 11 and 14: "Testing every child has, overall, a negative on the learning outcomes and attitudes of children. Repeated practice tests reinforced the low self-image of the lower-achieving students. The feedback from teachers often hurts children’s feelings rather than helping them understand their weaknesses. Children often responded by reducing their efforts towards further learning and focussing on performance in tests."

It is encouraging to hear Dr Kelly say this, which seemed apparent to me and to many of my colleagues as soon as we started training to teach. It is important that he says it too. The more high profile criticisms of the current testing regime, the more the government will have to listen.

The current testing regime comes from an array of misguided notions about the appropriate means of assessing schools, teachers and students. It is easy to think that those who argue against the current regime are against testing per se. Not so; the criticism of the testing regime for younger students does not imply a criticism of the idea of testing at 16 and 18.

Richard Garner disputes Dr Kelly’s argument that ‘rising achievement’ can be explained by examinations having been made easier. Garner argues that the rise in perceived achievement is explained by teachers becoming ever more adept at coaching for exams. I’m inclined to think that a little of each is more or less right. I discuss a similar idea in my post Playing Politics with Education.

Dr Kelly has a host of other things to discuss in Making Minds too, from the hours that schools open to the ages at which language acquisition is most acute. It is encouraging that research into neurological science is starting to have an impact on educational thinking. I will post more on these ideas once I’ve got my copy!

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