Tested to distraction

Should we put our children through so much stress?
Get ready for a rant. Here's the bottom line: More testing doesn't lead to better learning. In fact, over-testing distracts from the real business of learning. This is something all governments should understand and accept, but unfortunately, most do not or will not. It would certainly help if those who were in charge of running our education systems were former teachers. In England, the current Education Secretary - not a teacher - is considering introducing (or rather re-introducing) testing for 7 year-olds. This is a scheme that failed and was withdrawn in 2004, but is now being proposed again. According to her speech, in recent news reports, Nicky Morgan admits she wants to be able more closely to monitor the 'quality of schools' in England.

So there we have it. For the current UK government, testing is not there to support better learning. It's there to ensure schools are doing well. Ultimately, it will indicate how far off the pace we are in the world education rankings. It seems that governments care more about league tables such as PISA than they do about the quality of children's learning. Schools are political footballs. Governments are more interested in ensuring that their statistics and metrics continue to rise, than they are about children's learning. For them, testing is a mechanism that keeps schools in check, and they care little about the collateral damage caused.

The side effects of over-testing are that children become victims of the scramble to be best in the league tables. Teachers are pressurised to deliver better all round results. They are forced to teach to the test, which detracts from good pedagogy and also leads to higher stress and anxiety levels, not only for the teachers themselves, but also for many of their students. Everyone is forced to perform at a level that aligns to what those in power expect. A narrower curriculum also results from the regime of over-testing. Everyone is distracted from the business of learning by the need to 'perform'.  I have already written about the superficiality and inappropriateness of many tests in a post called Who put the ass in assessment? so I won't bore you further here. But when performance counts more than learning, then education systems are in a lot of trouble.

How are we going to prepare our children for the future if all we cause them to do in the classroom is suffer anxiety as they prepare for tests? How are we going to teach a wide and all embracing curriculum when teachers are so over-burdened with marking, administration and compliance with standards that they have no freedom to teach? How can we expect children to learn well when all they are thinking about is their grades? No wonder schools are haemorraging experienced and new teachers at a faster pace than we can train and replace them. Yes, assessment of learning is an important part of formal education, but the current system of testing is destroying schools. Over-testing is akin to a gardener who is constantly uprooting his plants to monitor and record their growth. He will look very busy, and there will be plenty of statistics, but ultimately, plant growth will be compromised.

Photo by Sarah Horrigan on Flickr

Creative Commons License
Tested to distraction by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Guy Cowley said…
Isn't the problem as much with assessment? Teach to test is more relevant if the the the test is meaningful. The failure is as much with academics failing to devise reliable tests for favoured learning approaches as it is with politicians looking for easy evidence of "success"?
Steve Wheeler said…
Yes, agree to all of that, but the real problem is the Government's cynical manipulation of assessment as a political device - assessment should be to support learning yes? And ultimately in this case it's not - that's my key objection as seen above.

On another note, I hope you're enjoying November 5th, Guy. My daughter was born on this day in 1992, and we resisted calling her Katherine :)
Guy Cowley said…
My mother chose Guy because it was unshortenable and could be "commanded". She was a PE teacher but I don't think she would be regarded as politically correct! Strange how we live with our parents' often era-specific names.
Steve Wheeler said…
Isn't it just! My given name is Stephen but only my mother ever called me that, and only when she was angry at me.
When I was young, I feel that frequent tests were one of the few effective ways of actually making us work. These days, with gamification and eLearning - I really don't think so.

Popular Posts