Archive for the ‘Standardised Testing’ Category

Oops, We Seem to Have Lost Your Exams

July 31, 2012

I am a little absent-minded myself, but this is slightly more serious than misplacing your car keys.

Doing those blasted standardised tests once is bad enough. Imagine having to go through the whole process again!

More than a dozen New York City students will have to retake state mandated standardized exams after the city lost their answer sheets.

Students at Brooklyn’s Franklin D. Roosevelt High School’s night school are already considered at risk of dropping out. The program helps struggling students work toward graduation, but the mix-up is affecting 17 students, whose answer sheets were not included in a packing list to be scored, NY1 reports.

The city doesn’t know what happened to the U.S. history exams, which disappeared as they were being transferred to another school as part of an effort to curb cheating by having teachers grade exams for students at other schools. About 107,000 tests from 162 schools were exchanged for grading, according to The Wall Street Journal, and are required for graduation.

Four students were not able to graduate on time as a direct result of the missing answer sheets, while the other students still had other requirements to meet. They must retake the exam during the August test administration.

Click on the link to read Standardised Testing Meets Spin City

Click on the link to read Pushy Parents and those Awful Standardised Tests!

Click on the link to read Too Many Tests, Not Enough Teaching

Click on the link to read I’m Just Gonna Say It: Standardised Tests Suck!

Standardised Testing Meets Spin City

May 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I sought to have an interview with Australia’s Education Minister regarding the upcoming NAPLAN standardised tests. I am still waiting for a reply.

Luckily, I came across his op/ed piece over the weekend, where he tries to allay the fears of the parenting community and make a case for these highly pressured, incredibly unpopular series of tests.

In his piece, he claims that:

Parents and the community should rest assured that the NAPLAN tests are simply a way of measuring how our students and our schools are performing in the three key areas of reading, writing and numeracy. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I assure you Mr. Garrett that parents of 8-years olds subjected to 4 rigorous exams in 3 days understand that these tests represent much more than just a simple way of measuring child progress.

There is nothing in any of the tests that students need to learn above and beyond what is already being taught in the classroom, namely the curriculum.

I am not sure that is true. Whilst my students are expected to write persuasive essays, there is no mention of persuasive writing in the Grade 3 curriculum.

By measuring how our students are performing as they progress through school, we can get a clear national picture, for the first time, of where we need to be directing extra attention and resources.

This is just spin. This implies that these tests exist to help direct the Government in regards to spending and programs. There is no evidence of any Governmental response whether it be financial or a simple change of priorities based on the yearly NAPLAN results. Instead, the outcome of the NAPLAN is designed to expose failing schools, inept teachers and anything and everything that can divert attention from a Government good at measuring performance but poor at performing themselves.

It needs to be made clear to schools and teachers that excessive test practising ahead of NAPLAN is unnecessary. While it helps to be familiar with the structure of the tests, carrying out endless practices should not be encouraged. NAPLAN matters, but it is not the be all and end all.

Unnecessary to whom? If you and your staff were to be tested on the performance of your portfolio wouldn’t you take the time to prepare? When a class gets appraised, so does the teacher. Are we meant to sit back and watch 8-years old kids sit for their first formal exams without preparing them for the kinds of questions and scenarios they are likely to encounter?

Mr. Garett, your opinion piece tries to win over parents, yet it completely deviates from the very issue that parents are most concerned about. Parents do not like seeing their young children exposed to so much pressure. They don’t like to see their children who may currently enjoy learning, subjected to such a negative learning experience.

Today, one of my students was so frightened by the prospect of these exams that he was reluctant to get in the car. We are talking about a child that loves learning.

I have no problem with High School children being tested. But 3rd Graders? Is it really worth it?

 

Pushy Parents and those Awful Standardised Tests!

May 13, 2012

So it turns out that some parents are so keen to have their children perform at the NAPLAN tests (Australia’s standardised tests) that they have started preparing them as early as kindergarten age. I couldn’t think of anything more dispiriting for a child. It’s bad enough I have to teach my Grade 3’s based on the questions they are bound to encounter during the tests, what could be worse than being subjected to it, up to 5 years in advance?

PUSHY parents are training kindergarten kids for Naplan – four years before they have to sit the controversial literacy and numeracy tests.

About a million students – in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 – will sit this year’s tests over three days next week.

But the pressure to perform is beginning years early, with some parents forcing their four-year-olds to take grade 3-level tests at home.

Dr Les Michel, from the Senior Students Resource Centre, said pre-school parents had joined the soaring demand for practice Naplan tests.

“This year we’ve even been getting kinder parents,” Dr Michel said.

“We would have had dozens, I’d say.”

Dr Michel said kindergarten parents bought the grade 3-level booklets, costing up to $24.95 each.

“They are really pushing their kids,” he said.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said Naplan practice for pre-schoolers was “highly alarming”.

“It’s putting more pressure on kids at such a young age that they really don’t need, and it’s usurping the role that teachers in the classroom play, which is completely unnecessary,” he said.

However schools are also increasing the pressure, with “teaching for the test” now beginning as early as grade 1.

“We’re aware of it happening, even though people won’t admit it on the record, and why would they?” Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said.

“It demonstrates the desperation of some schools – their reputation hangs on it.”

Victorian Independent Education Union secretary Deb James said there was an “increased and unwelcome” focus on the tests in schools.

Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said: “Kids sitting down and practising tests is not the way to learn.”

Lucky for these pushy parents, I have some suggested exercises for them to set for their children.

 

To prepare them for the persuasive writing exam, you could set your child some of the following topics:

1. What is more fun, studying language conventions or playing outside with friends?

2. Is doing practice tests with mum and dad considered quality time?

3. Is learning for fun overrated?

 

To prepare them for the maths paper, I have the following suggested activities:

1. Count up the blisters that you have accrued from all the writing you’ve done and round the number to the nearest ten.

2. If Johnny went to school from 8:00 a.m until 4:00 p.m. and then spent the next 2 hours completing timed reading comprehension exams, how much time does he have to relax?

3. What percentage of pushy parents ends up rearing appreciative kids?

Good luck parents!

Too Many Tests, Not Enough Teaching

March 30, 2012

The rise of standardised testing has replaced authentic teaching and learning with a saturation of practise and formal testing:

SATURATION testing is seriously undermining the quality of primary school education and should be stopped immediately, parents and educators claimed yesterday.

Thousands of kids are subjected to trial exams every week in the lead up to the compulsory Naplan tests, as well as exams for opportunity classes or selective high schools, and coaching by private tutors.

But while Naplan, which forms the basis of performance ratings on the My School website, focuses on literacy and numeracy, experts claim they are being “taught to the test” at the expense of other areas such as arts, physical education and music.

With the barrage of testing beginning in kindergarten, education consultant and public schools principals’ forum official Brian Chudleigh said the system was “out of control” and skewing education in the wrong direction. A former senior principal who is the education expert for The Daily Telegraph’s People’s Plan, Mr Chudleigh said the testing regime was contributing to a “massive dysfunction” in the state’s education system.

“We have become a system that is manic about measurement – the main problem is that it is so convenient for the politicians,” he said. “They want to reduce things to the value of a percentile or a number, and that has an impact on education.

“If a kid can’t be measured they don’t want to know about it.

“It reduces the value of anything that you can’t measure and the curriculum becomes focused on the measurable stuff,” Mr Chudleigh said.

“So the development of the whole child – including socialisation, emotional welfare, physical fitness and cultural factors – are relegated in importance.

“Many schools are having two or three lessons every week practising Naplan-style tests and that takes valuable teaching time away from other subjects. A lot of the best stuff we do with kids, particularly in primary school, is not measurable.

“It’s out of control. But our universities are littered with these kids who don’t do as well there as the generally all-round educated students.”

Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations spokeswoman Rachael Sowden said being taught to the test was “not what parents want”.

“They do not want to know that their child scored three marks more than the kid down the street,” she said. “Parents are as concerned about the whole child and how they are going in creative arts, physical education and music as much as in literacy and numeracy.

“Parents do want to know where their child is up to at school and they do that best by having a conversation with the teacher.”

I hate having to prepare 8 year-olds who have never sat for a formal test before for the rigours of the 3 day marathon that is NAPLAN. It’s just not fair! They are too young!

Kids Stop Taking Risks When Constantly Tested

March 15, 2012

One of the key skills a primary teacher tries to institute in their class is the freedom of answering a problem without any trepidation. I tell my students that a wrong answer is not a negative. It is rather an opportunity to learn something new, and there is nothing more satisfying than being able to do something that one previously had trouble with.

Such a reasoning can only be effectively conveyed within a certain learning environment. A calm, friendly, supportive environment inspires children to try their best regardless of whether they are certain they have the correct answer. An intimidating and judgemental environment causes students to feel reluctant to take risks.

Standarised testing is an environment changer, and a study confirms that such ordeals make children less likely to develop the skill of risk taking:

Kids perform better in school if they know failure, and trying again, is part of the learning process, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“Experiencing difficulty when we work on a demanding problem may raise the possibility that we are not that smart after all,” said Jean-Claude Croizet, co-author of the study. “Difficulty makes us nervous because it is often associated with lower ability.”

One experiment included 111 French schoolchildren ages 11 and 12. They were given a difficult anagram problem that was too difficult for any of them to solve. Afterwards, researchers told half the kids that failure is common and to be expected when learning. The other group were simply asked how they tried to solve the problem by the researchers. The group that received the pep talk scored better on further tests than the group of kids who did not receive the talk.

“Fear of failing can hijack the working memory resources, a core component of intellectual ability,” the researchers said. “Fear of failing not only hampers performance, it can also lead students to avoid difficulty and therefore the opportunities to develop new skills. Because difficulty is inherent to most academic tasks, our goal was to create a safer performance environment where experiencing difficulty would not be associated with lower ability.”

While the researchers noted the students’ improvement on tests was likely temporary, working memory may get a boost from a simple dose of self-confidence. The researchers said teachers and parents should provide positive reinforcement and point out kids’ progress rather than test scores.

“The cognitive gains obtained in our research may offer promising prospects for application in education because working memory capacity underlies a wide range of complex activities like learning, problem solving and language comprehension,” Autin said.

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!

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!


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