Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Standardised Testing: The Root of All Education's Evils.

There has been a lot of furore surrounding standardised testing, of late. There seems to be two trains of thought, separated by a huge chasm. People seem to be completely opposed to it or for it, there are no middle roads here. I would safely estimate that the majority of people that are adamantly for standardised testing, are politicians and government officials. It seems to be that this is the only way, they feel, they are able to monitor progress with in schools. Government always requires numbers to evaluate whether their systems are a success or a failure, but when it comes to education they are doing this to the detriment of our children. 

So what is standardised testing? Well, any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers is a standardised test. So simply put exams and class tests are standardised tests.

Why are they used? Commonly standardised testing is used to test the knowledge of the students, so the teacher can determine where the child's strengths and weaknesses lie.

Why am I against them? 

  1. Everything mentioned in the poster above!
  2. Think about it; how many facts do you actually remember from school? For most of us, this knowledge is forgotten by the time we reach the next grade. So what is the actual point? All we are testing is what the child knows right now, this discounts what they will remember in the future.
  3. Children that I work with, in my remedial practice, often complain that they struggle to recall facts, no matter how long they learn for. Some of these kids are the best divergent thinkers I have ever come across, but divergent thinking is not tested, so they are being penalised for struggling to learn facts. Knowledge accumulation should only be a small part of the child's education, however, when you base whether they will pass or fail using this method, it suddenly becomes what education centres around. 
  4. Steven Covey (author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) said “Reducing children to a test score is the worst form of identity theft we could commit in schools.” I cannot stress how many 'Likes' I could give this comment. In schools children are treated and seen as their testing ability, and no further. Often I have sat in a staff room and cringed when teachers have said, "So-and-so is lovely, she is an "A' student" or "So-and-so will only ever be a 'D' student." The fact that this 'D' student could volunteer at the homeless shelter or raise funds for abandoned animals is completely overshadowed by the results they achieve in their tests and exams. These results start to define how your child is seen.
  5. Just this year I had to council a mother and son, as their relationship was disintegrating, because he was struggling to learn his work, and she was losing patience. The more the tension rose between them, the more resistance he was showing to studying, until eventually he refused to study completely, and this is where it all hit the fan. I had to explain to the mom that her son was not being lazy or rebellious, all he was doing was removing the one thing that was causing the tension between them - studying. I have seen too many families thrown into turmoil due to the stress that tests bring. Child depression, stress and suicide that is directly linked to school performance, is drastically on the rise. 
  6. Mothers! Yes, I'm talking to you! Mothers love to boast about their children's achievements. This is all well and fine, until that need to boast becomes so great that they exert undue pressure on themselves and their children to achieve. I kid you not, when I tell you that I have had to council crying mothers in the school parking lot because they are so worried that their little darling is not going to get an award at the end of the year, because she/he didn't study hard enough for her/his tests or exams. Testing causes the school to become an unhealthy, competitive playground:not only for the children but the parents as well. This competition, while yes arguably can drive children to achieve greater results, more often than not lands up creating large amounts of stress and friction within the classroom.
  7. A few years ago I worked with a little boy called Patrick. One day, Patrick, ran out of his teacher's classroom and locked himself in a spare classroom and refused to come out. I was called and when I went to speak to Patrick he broke down sobbing and confessed that he felt stupid, because he was always getting the lowest marks in the class. Granted, Matthew had other problems too, but this feeling of worthlessness is unfortunately very common among children who do not always achieve top marks. Testing causes low self-esteem. No matter how much a teacher sugar-coats the low test result for a child, they will always feel inadequate if their test results are lower than the rest of their class mates. Children automatically label themselves as, 'stupid' or 'worthless' or 'thick' if they feel that their marks are not up to scratch.
  8. I never achieved good marks at school. My brain just never retained facts. Because of this I just thought I was dumb, I mean I must be. I studied, I wrote, I achieved a bad mark. Until I eventually stopped studying because I felt that I was just waisting my time. This all changed when I went to university. Suddenly at university, they were not just testing my recall but I had to give my own opinion, analyse work and formulate arguments. I came alive and started achieving results, I never thought would be possible for me. It was only then I realised that I wasn't really as dumb as I thought. Unfortunately though at the moment, tests have becomes a marker as to how intelligent someone is. This is largely untrue. Testing tests memory, you can be immensely bright but have a poor memory.
  9. Apart from allocating a child a result, standardised testing doesn't really serve as an educational purpose. Once the test is done, it's done. Some teacher's may choose to review the test and require that the children do corrections, but this process is superficial at best, and few children benefit from this overview.
  10. An important point to remember: "Education ceases to be learning when the 3 R's are read, remember, and regurgitate." "Boston Public" character of student protester.
What is the alternative? 

There are a handful of countries have come to realise that standardised testing is the least effective way of monitoring a child's progress, Finland being the most infamous of them. As a teacher, I could easily tell you which children in my class are struggling and what they are struggling with, without using a test. I honestly do not see the point of testing. Effective teachers are easily able to monitor and record a child's progress without the means of tests. 
This is when people ask, "But what about your ineffective teachers? At least the poor test results show them up." Well, no they don't. Ineffective teachers, first and foremost should be removed from the classroom, far away from our children, and as much as I'd like to believe that low test scores could do this - they don't. I have over the years, seen teachers blame their poor performance on the children. Blaming them for being below average, lazy, demotivated, stupid - the labels go and on. The saddest thing about this is that people tend to believe the teacher and shake their heads in pity that she always gets the weak class of the grade, meanwhile, the poor children are just being exposed to weak teaching skills. So no, testing does not even help to highlight bad teaching. 

Once we drive schools away from being content driven, we can get rid of tests. Our children should be taught higher order thinking skills, creative thinking skills and problem solving. The focus of education should be preparing the children to become adults who are out of the box thinkers. Adults who are able to take a look at problems and come up with suitable, working solutions. Adults who are able to be creative, empathetic, courageous and leaders. Unfortunately at the moment all education is doing is preparing our children to become are followers and regurgitators. 

The alternative is to do away with all testing and exams that count for marks. If teachers want to see how their children are performing, why not give them a performance-based assessment that doesn't count. If testing is purely used for the sake of checking a child's ability then it really does not need to be quantified. 

My next blog will deal in more depth, with how are able to help your child, with tests and exams (as obviously until we can make changes our children have to fit into the system) and how we can move forward to try and effect changes within the education system.

I leave you with this quote: ""Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning." Bill Ayers (an American elementary education theorist).