Working the system
One of the questions I discussed today with some of my third year teaching students was: what is the use of school exams? We discussed why we should put kids through the stress and anxiety of testing, when tests do little to help kids to learn meaningful things. Testing is essentially a snap shot of what the student knows when the test is administered. It's a very effective method of scaring kids to death, and it's also a very efficient method with which Governments can gather data to indicate how well the cohort of students in each school has had their heads crammed full of useless facts. And so, educators then find themselves 'teaching to the test', just so that they can give their students a better chance at passing with a reasonable grade. The more students in that school who get good grades, the higher the school will appear in the league tables. Yesterday I wrote about the way the UK Government has cynically manipulated recent test results, with disastrous consequences.
So what about the kids? Isn't school meant to be for their benefit? Exams do little to help children to learn deep and meaningful stuff they can later translate into the reality of life beyond the school gates. How much do I recall from the exams I swotted for? Not a lot. What exams teach children is that if they rote learn lots of facts, figures and information, they can manipulate the system. Being able to regurgitate this kind of surface knowledge onto a test paper to score as high a grade as possible is as far removed from education as it is possible to be. Exams are at best a test of memory and a snapshot of what students 'know' when the test is administered. The exam itself tells us nothing about how children will cope with the messy, complex problems they will face in real life, or how good they are for example, at working in a team. Exams tell us next to nothing about their creative abilities or their cognitive agility. Project work, continuous assessment and monitoring of progress are much more likely to be indicators of how well a child is doing in school.
Chris Husbands, Director of the Institute of Education, recently made a telling statement on the topic in the Guardian newspaper:
"I'm not sure there is any evidence that exams are an improvement device on their own. What improves education is improving teaching and learning. Where exams play a part is the extent to which they provide structures that encourage improved teaching and learning. It's really important that we have rigour in our assessment. It's also really important that we are clear about what rigour means. And rigour means assessing children and young people on the basis of the knowledge, skills and understanding that are going to prepare them for adult life."
Do we need an overhaul of the school examination system? I think in it's current format, it is broken beyond repair. I would be very interested to hear your views.
Calvin and Hobbes cartoon courtesy of Universal Press Syndicate
Working the system by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.