Archive for the ‘Standardised Testing’ Category

Teacher Morale at an All Time Low

March 8, 2012

Should we be the least bit surprised that teachers are generally not getting job satisfaction? Did anyone consider for a moment that the introduction of standardised testing would do little for student achievement and do even less for teacher morale?

Or better yet, an even more compelling question, does anyone even care about the plight of teachers?

As long as Governments keep on peddling their diatribe about how many poor teachers there are in the system and how they are determined to expose them before slowly weeding them out. As long as Educational bureaucrats have someone to blame for low achievement levels, then why should they care?

Sure there are more stakeholders in the educational system than just teachers, and it’s true that teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for disappointing academic figures, But who cares? As long as the public buy the spin about the poor state of the teaching fraternity, it doesn’t really matter that spending on education is mismanaged and misallocated, curriculums are inflexible and politically motivated and the paperwork expectations of teachers are extremely unfair. Why should it matter?

“Those hopeless teachers! All they ever do is complain!”

So, no, I am not surprised the teachers of New York are not enjoying themselves:

More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989, the survey found. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four.

The results, released in the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, expose some of the insecurities fostered by the high-stakes pressure to evaluate teachers at a time of shrinking resources. About 40 percent of the teachers and parents surveyed said they were pessimistic that levels of student achievement would increase in the coming years, despite the focus on test scores as a primary measure of quality of a teacher’s work.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington, said the push for evaluations, punctuated by a national movement to curb the power of unions, had fostered an unsettling cultural shift.

“It’s easy to see why teachers feel put upon, when you consider the rhetoric around the need to measure their effectiveness — just as it’s easy to see why they would internalize it as a perception that teachers are generally ineffective, even if it’s not what the debate is about at all,” Ms. Jacobs said.

More than 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said the schools where they teach had undergone budget cuts last year, and about as many of them said the cuts included layoffs — of teachers and others, like school aides and counselors. Roughly one in three teachers said their schools lost arts, music and foreign language programs. A similar proportion noted that technology and materials used in the schools had not been kept up to date to meet students’ needs.

“The fixation on testing has been a negative turn of events when the things that engage kids in schools are all being cut,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

I could argue that unless teachers are given the conditions and freedom to thrive in their workplace the results are not going to come. But solutions have never been an urgent matter for politicians. They are far more interested in scapegoats – and let’s just say, teachers make great scapegoats!

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I’m Just Gonna Say It: Standardised Tests Suck!

March 4, 2012

I completely and utterly detest standardised testing. My Grade 3 students are just 8 years old. How unbelievable insensitive of our Federal Government to subject these kids to a week-long torturous array of formal testing!  These kids have had little to no experience with test papers and exam conditions, and no matter how calm and stress free I am trying to make my classroom, my students know that it’s coming and they don’t like it one bit!

HIGH STAKE standardised tests, such as NAPLAN, are having a negative impact on children with experts saying such examinations reduce the ability to learn.

Nationwide testing of students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9 was introduced by the federal government four years ago to allow parents and teachers to benchmark the numeracy and literacy levels of individual children and specific schools.

But a review of academic literature on the issue released by the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute revealed national testing programs such as NAPLAN were a source of significant stress for young people and their families.

Institute director Eric Sidotti said schools can become ”emotional cauldrons”.”It should come as no surprise that the introduction of a national regime of standardised external testing would become a lightning rod of claim and counter-claim and a battleground for competing educational philosophies,” he said.

The review found ”a range of concerns” about the reliability of standardised testing, quality of learning experiences, structure of the curriculum and health and well-being of children.

There is also evidence of negative effects on service delivery; professional-parent relationships; and stress, anxiety, pressure and fear experienced by students.

Research also found a negative impact on teaching, with standardised tests putting pressure on teachers to emphasise results over holistic learning.

”Teachers will focus on the areas in which students will be tested, while reducing the proportion of class time devoted to curriculum areas not included in state tests,” the review notes.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said tests measuring the progress of more than a million Australian students over the past four years allowed parents to identify schools where students achieve comparative improvement over peers of a similar background.

Ms Gillard said NAPLAN lifted the academic performance of students, giving teachers feedback on education strategies and providing disadvantaged schools with access to extra funding.

”We want every child in Australia to have access to a world class education,” she said.

”My School is pivotal to this. It helps us see what works and which schools need support to improve.”

There is nothing positive to come out of these tests. It negatively affects the way my students view learning, it affects the way I teach and it prevents what should be a fun year from eventuating. If you want to test high school kids, go ahead. But leave my Grade 3’s out of your mean experiment!

Encouraging a Nation of Cheats

December 11, 2011

I am very much opposed to cheating in every form. Teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of imparting the lessons of integrity and honesty. It is absolutely vital that they are practising what they preach.

is right when she argues that the current narrow, test dominated view of education is bringing about dishonest behaviour. This further encourages students to continue the trend of dishonesty. This also prevents students from developing skills in persistence and motivation:

This week, the heads of the four main examination boards and officials from Ofqual, the exam regulator, are in for a testing time. They will be required to explain to MPs why some of their profession have indulged in behaviour that prompted Michael Gove, the education secretary, to call the examination system “discredited”.

The revelations of the past week have only reinforced a profound unease on the part of many that while we may be educating our children, are they actually learning anything useful (except, perhaps, that cheating definitely does not come cheap)? Useful, that is, not just for their future employment prospects, but also to equip them to become rounded human beings who desist from giving up the first time they taste failure or hit a hump on the bumpy road to maturity ?

As Mick Waters, a former director of the government’s exam regulator says: “We need to strip back to the bone and decide what education is for. There are children who learn paragraphs all day, every day, in year 11, just so they can write them one day in June.”

Sadly, stagnant teaching methods anchored in the 19th century are not in the dock this week. Instead, MPs want to learn more about examiners’ “tip offs” to teachers on which questions might or might not figure in exams; the perennial issue of dumbing down of standards and grade inflation and the extent to which the pressure of league tables on headmasters is causing them to bend the rules in ways that Mr Chips could never have envisioned.

Qualifications matter, but our neglect of other facets of learning makes us look moribund for a modern society. Better than obsessing about teaching to the test, why aren’t we probing what stokes motivation? Ask any teacher and he or she will tell you a dozen stories of bright pupils who can’t or won’t stick at it; stymied by their own lack of grit. Given that we have thousands of disengaged young people mouldering in school, why are we not more curious about the positive deviants? Those boys and girls, some with low IQs, and against all the odds, who power ahead of their brighter peers for the simple reason that they refuse to give up?

Why aren’t we telling teenagers, captive in the classroom, an alternative story? Why isn’t there a stronger challenge to a child’s belief that they have been labelled “thick” – by implication, at an early age by a well-intentioned graduate teacher, often from a distinctly different background? And to make them realise that judgment may be far from true and certainly shouldn’t mould a lifetime’s choices?

The rest of her article is well worth reading. She has nailed a major issue which our dysfunctional system has to take more seriously. After all, a system that revolves around a test can be exploited.

A system that revolves around quality education outcomes, engaging lessons, a focus on questions, inquiry and everyday, real life experiences can not be exploited so readily.

 

Do You Remember When Learning Wasn’t About the Test?

November 14, 2011

Students across Australia, and dare I say it worldwide, are sick of constantly being graded.  Gone are the days when a child can learn to love a given subject through observation, experience, discussion and self-evaluation.  Now every learning focus leads to the ultimate test of nerve – a test.

Standardised tests have absolutely ruined the enjoyment of learning.  They reinforce a pecking order which is not beneficial for children.  The constant grading of children make kids who try hard but struggle to perform, feel dumb and useless.  It has taken over classrooms, with teachers too worried about the implications of their class doing badly to teach the curriculum the way it was designed to be taught.  Instead, they are forced to teach to the tests.  This involves months of practice exams.  How inspiring!

Our children deserve better.  They deserve to go to school without having to constantly sit for preparation tests followed by real tests followed by another set of preparation tests etc.  They deserve to have their education untainted by political point scorers.

I love the backflip contained in the first paragraph of a recent editorial in the L.A. Times:

The high-stakes measurement of student progress through annual standardized tests has, in many classrooms, restricted creativity, innovation and individuality. It has emphasized the skills involved in taking multiple-choice tests over those of researching, analyzing, experimenting and writing, the tools that students are more likely to need to be great thinkers, excellent university students and valued employees. But, by pressuring schools to raise achievement, it also has ensured that more students reach high school able to read books more sophisticated than those by Dr. Seuss — which, sad to say, was a major problem a decade ago — and tackle algebra by ninth grade.

Once you have taken the “creativity, innovation and individuality” out of education there is no “but”.  There is no good way of rationalising those vital missing ingredients.

Sure it’s good to have data on the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms.  Of course, assessments are a staple of education.  But these dry, monotonous, pressure-ridden tests can get too much for kids looking for more enjoyable ways of learning.

If these tests have as I suspect, a negative effect on our students’ enjoyment of learning and self-esteem, is it really worth persevering with?

What a Year For Teachers!

October 24, 2011

Today, my blog Topical Teaching, celebrates its very first birthday.

In the past 12 months I have witnessed probably the most difficult period for teachers in recent memory.  From layoffs, to debates over tenure vs skilled teachers, it has been a period of great uncertainty.  Teachers are facing great negativity by those that are looking for an easy target to blame.

Whilst there are a premium of poor teachers out there, there are also brilliant teachers in great supply.  Teachers are not to blame for the state of our education system.  There are other stakeholders that must lift their game as well.

In the past year the Facebook phenomenon has uncovered a potential danger for teachers.  It is clear that teachers on Facebook must be extra careful to avoid controversy, as some have made very poor judgement calls that have cost them dearly in the end.

Teachers are also faced with an ever-growing bullying problem.  From the classroom to cyberbullying, teachers have the important task of limiting incidences of bullying as best they can.

The rigours of standardised testing has also been a hot topic throughout the year.  From cheating scandals to stressed out teachers the blasted tests are here to stay and the question is, are our students better for it?

Thank you to those of you who clicked on and contributed to my blog.  I have really enjoyed sharing ideas and interacting with you.  A special thank you to regular contributors, Margaret, Carl and Anthony for their loyalty and insight.

I hope, as I continue writing this blog, teachers get the break they so richly deserve.  Teaching is a profession that attracts people who want to make a difference.  We aren’t in it for the money or prestige, just the opportunity to help the students of today become the role models of tomorrow.

Thank you for a wonderful year!

Love of Learning Not Considered a Priority

September 8, 2011

There are too many realities of education that are accepted without being properly challenged.  One such reality is that pre-school kids generally love learning whilst older kids don’t.  Pre-schoolers like to ask questions, think creatively, learn new things and take risks with their learning.  Preschool teachers seldom experience the negativity we Primary school teachers see on a daily basis.

A few years later that same Pre-school class will become a Middle-Years Primary class.  Invariably things will be very different.  Academic and social pressures start to show, the kids become self-conscious about getting answers wrong,  are less likely to put their hands up and don’t enjoy their learning as much, if at all.  What has happened in such a short time period?  How did such enthusiastic learners become so dispirited and negative so quickly?  What is the system doing wrong?

In my opinion, part of the blame falls on the endless obsession of benchmarks and accountability.  Whilst it is important to make schools accountable for the quality of their teaching and as important as it is to provide parents with current data about their childs’ progress, look at the price the students have had to pay for this to happen.

The child is subjected to frequent rigorous standardised testing where they are pressured to perform not only to preserve their own self-esteem but also to bolster their school’s reputation.  Innovative, fun and creative lessons are being replaced by pre-tests, practise tests and formal tests.  Trial and error and experimentation is being replaced by methods, short cuts and rote learning.  Curriculums are overloaded, dead boring and politically charged.

And so severe is the pressure from schools to comply with these rigid expectations, that naturally, some are going to unethical lengths to restore their reputations:

Some teachers feel pressurised into altering pupils’ marks to imply they are making good progress in class, research suggests.

Three separate studies suggest teachers are changing assessments after pressure from senior school staff worried about making the school look good.

The government said it trusted schools to make correct judgements when grading pupils.

And all three, being presented to the British Educational Research Association on Wednesday, suggest that some teachers feel pressure from school management to show that their pupils are steadily hitting targets.

Teachers typically have to provide information at least once a term on which level of the national curriculum a child has reached as they move through the school.

The author of one of the studies, Professor Martin Fautley of Birmingham City University, said assessment was being used for an entirely different purpose than was intended.

“Assessment has become a measure of school effectiveness rather than simply a measure of how pupils are performing.

“Management are telling teachers that pupils should be achieving at a certain level, and some teachers are then feeling forced into saying that they have achieved it, whether or not this is appropriate.”

What this article and many ones like it don’t tell you is what implications all this pressure has on the students and on the way teachers teach.

The sad reality of all this is the creative child that buzzes about their experiences on the way back from pre-school later becomes the child that refuses to talk about their day only a few years later.

 

Meeting Targets Over True Academic Progress

July 22, 2011

Well done Monty Neill!  The Executive director of FairTest, reaffirms what I have been saying all along about teachers caught cheating on standardised tests.  Below was my reaction last week to the Atlanta School teaching scandal:

There is no excuse for teachers or officials to cheat.  We are there to provide a moral example for our students, and cheating of any kind is clearly unacceptable.

But we must not leave the matter at that point.  There’s a reason why some teachers have cheated on standardised tests.  Those tests  are anti-education.  They measure success through pressurised outcomes rather than authentic teaching and learning.  They expose teachers to unfair stress and scrutiny and force them the teach to the test, rather than teach to enrich and engage.

Mr. Neill says it even more succinctly:

Focusing solely on punishing the Atlanta school employees who wrongly changed test answers ignores more fundamental problems.

The Georgia investigators found that a primary cause of cheating was “unreasonable” score targets coupled with “unreasonable pressure on teachers and principals.” They concluded that “meeting ‘targets’ by whatever means necessary became more important than true academic progress.”

Misusing standardized exams as the primary factor to make educational decisions encourages score manipulation. Campbell’s Law predicted this result decades ago. It states, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures, and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

That is precisely what happened in Atlanta. The nation’s students, schools and taxpayers deserve assessment systems that promote ethical behavior, better teaching and stronger learning outcomes.

The Atlanta Cheating Scandal and Those Blasted Tests

July 12, 2011

There is no excuse for teachers or officials to cheat.  We are there to provide a moral example for our students, and cheating of any kind is clearly unacceptable.

But we must not leave the matter at that point.  There’s a reason why some teachers have cheated on standardised tests.  Those tests  are anti-education.  They measure success through pressurised outcomes rather than authentic teaching and learning.  They expose teachers to unfair stress and scrutiny and force them the teach to the test, rather than teach to enrich and engage.

Officials in Atlanta deserve the condemnation they are receiving.

Officials and parents here are reeling after revelations of one of the largest school cheating scandals in history.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal released a report showing that officials at nearly 80 percent of 56 Atlanta elementary and middle schools examined cheated on annual student-performance tests, called Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Former Superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and retired last month as head of the 48,000-student district, is accused of creating a culture of fear, pressuring faculty and administrators into accepting ever-increasing targets of achievement and turning a blind eye to the way those goals were achieved.

For a decade, teachers and principals changed answers on state tests.

But we must reflect on the merits of standardised state and national tests.

In Australia we have the NAPLAN test.  The NAPLAN test like other National tests around the globe have an important function.  Their job is to give information to parents about their childs’ progress, which includes a comparison against all others taking the test in that age group.

But what it also does is set up the teacher.  The teacher carries the blame for the results.  It is the teacher that is the first port of call when parents seek an explanation – it is the teacher that is labelled as insufficient when the school analyses the data.

Such pressures lead teachers to teach for the test rather than the typical authentic adherence to the curriculum.  This is not the way teachers are supposed to teach.  It also puts more pressure on teachers.  Teachers are already under significant strain.  We must be mindful that this system puts them in a situation where their performance is scrutinised like never before.  And finally, a test is just a guide.  It is not a perfect form of assessment.  Many factors can cloud and effect the conclusions made by the data such as student anxiety, outliers etc.

Cheating is wrong, and teachers and officials that cheat deserve to be punished.  But somehow, I feel that by administering national tests, teachers are getting punished regardless.

Another Day, Another Standardised Test

July 5, 2011

UK teachers are told to add mandatory phonics tests to the ever-expanding list.  Remember when teaching was about engaging the students not test practise?

This time next year, every year 1 pupil in England is likely to encounter a new national test assessing a central aspect of their ability to read.

The children, aged five and six, will be presented with 40 individual words on paper, and asked to sound them out to their teachers or to another adult. Some words will be familiar to most, while others will be made-up or “non” words such as “mip” or “glimp”, designed only to assess the child’s ability to follow the pronunciation rules, such as they exist, of written English.

The results of this test, or “screening check”, will then be collected, given to the child’s parents and also used to produce statistics on national and local performance and to inform Ofsted inspection judgments on schools.

One leading literacy figure has described the new test as potentially “disastrous”, while another told this newspaper it was an “abomination” and likely to be a major waste of taxpayers’ money. A petition with more than 1,000 signatures against it has been collected.

The debate surrounds the principle of teaching phonics, another boring, routine and old-fashioned way of teaching content that could be conveyed in a far more exciting and engaging way.

Beyond this debate, I feel there is another issue at stake.  The rise of obsessive testing inevitably leads to the curriculum being hijacked by test practise as well as pressure needlessly put on Primary aged students.  These students deserve to have their crucial first years of schooling without the stresses they will confront later on down the track.

 


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