Posts Tagged ‘National Tests’

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.

Captain Phonics to the Rescue!

July 7, 2011

It’s like the pest that wont go away.  Phonics sneaks up on us all the time, with it’s many proponents insisting it is the missing key in getting literacy levels up to standard.  I doubt that is the case.  In fact, while I think phonics has a minor secondary role to play, if you make phonics the key method for teaching reading, you will almost certainly turn your students off literature.

It seems some British MP’s agree with me:

MPs have criticised government plans to test pupils on their reading ability at the age of six, warning that it will put children off reading for pleasure.

The report criticises the government’s focus on phonics – in which children learn individual sounds and then blend them to read words – as a “mechanical” approach and warns that it will contribute to a decline in literacy.

Fabian Hamilton, who chairs the MPs’ group, said: “If there is a central theme to this, that is, reading must be a pleasure. Of course children need the tools to understand what sounds the symbols make, and what those sounds mean. Phonics is only one way of doing it, there are others.”

The MPs’ report says: “The phonics test is likely to demotivate children rather than ensure that they become eager and fluent readers.”The government is facing a backlash over phonics. Critics, including the United Kingdom Literacy Association, have written to education secretary Michael Gove lobbying him to abandon the test.

The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: “High-quality evidence from across the world – from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the US – shows that the systematic teaching of synthetic phonics is the best way to teach basic reading skills, and especially those aged five to seven.

“It is vital that we focus on the reading skills of children early on in their lives, and give those who are struggling the extra help they need to enable them to go on to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading rather than a lifelong struggle.”

Surely the greatest contribution a teacher of reading can make is helping to nurture an appreciation and fondness of reading.  Phonics is for most students a giant slog.  Even the expression “systematic teaching of synthetic phonics” is a turnoff.

Phonics has its place, but enjoyment of reading is tantamount.  I want my students to enjoy reading about different people and places, connect with well drawn characters and gain insights. I want them to experinece how reading can trigger emotions, form opinions and nurture their imaginations.

I didn’t become a teacher to turn my students off reading.

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