"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"ruining children's futures and leaving them unprepared for the world of work"

From The Independent on a new report of results from the British testocracy, which is a few years ahead of where we are headed:
Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Teaching to national curriculum tests is ruining pupils' futures and leaving them unprepared for the world of work, says a report released today by a group of MPs.

The Labour-dominated Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families warns that the "inappropriate focus" by teachers on test results could rob pupils of a well-balanced education.

"We received substantial evidence that teaching to the test, to an extent which narrows the curriculum and puts sustained learning at risk, is widespread," the MPs state. "The way that many teachers have responded to the Government's approach to accountability has meant that test results are pursued at the expense of a rounded education for children.

"One serious consequence of teaching to the test is that it tends to lead to shallow learning and short-term retention of knowledge." The report adds: "In the worst cases, teachers may resort to dull and boring methods of teaching, using the looming threat of examinations to motivate pupils rather than inspiring them to learn."

The result of this has been a "disproportionate focus" on the core subjects of English, maths and science and "those aspects of these subjects which are likely to be tested in an examination" than all others.

The MPs, however, stop short of calling for an end to national curriculum tests – taken by all pupils at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 – saying that they find the arguments in favour of a system of national testing to be "persuasive". Instead, they say, it is the uses to which the test results are put – such as drawing up league tables of primary schools' test results and the targets set for individual schools' performance – that need a drastic revision.

"The drive to meet government targets has too often become the goal rather than the means to the end of providing the best possible education for all children," they argue.

It calls for further incentives for schools to acknowledge pupils' achievements in other aspects of the curriculum.

On league tables, the report advocates publishing them with a "health warning", telling parents not just to consider the raw results but coupling the publication of the tables with relevant comments from the latest report on the school by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog.

Opposition MPs and teachers' leaders claimed, however, that the report's evidence meant the test regime – shown by the MPs to be the most rigorous in the Western world – should be pruned.

Paul Holmes, Liberal Democrat MP for Chesterfield and a member of the Select Committee, said: "This report is a scathing indictment of the highly negative effects of the Government's high stakes testing regime coupled with league tables. It highlights the destructive effects of teaching to the test in order to hit prescribed Government targets."

The Schools minister, Jim Knight, said that the tests were "evolving" and a national pilot of new testing arrangements for 11-year-olds, whereby they could sit them when their teachers believed they were ready to take them rather than face "sudden death" end-of-year tests, had been launched.

The committee warned that these new "single level" tests would still hamper schools in their attempts to introduce a broader curriculum if they were going to be held accountable for the results.

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