Friday, 22 April 2016

Comment by someone at Guardian on 2016 testing disaster

Here's a comment from a thread at the Guardian today, following on from the KS1 disaster:

"What I think gets missed in all the conversations about education, health etc.. is how badly they are being run from the centre, in practical terms. A Department of Health that doesn't know how many doctors it employs is missing something quite fundamental.

Leaving aside whether we agree with curriculum, governance and testing changes brought in by the government, the real story is how incompetently it is being done. Looking at it from the side of the children, it is immediately apparent how little they matter in their own education. The speed and lack of thought around implementation cannot be in their interest: there are plenty of examples where, by waiting as little as the start of a new school year, the changes that are said to be so desperately important would have a better chance of success.

To pick a few:

The changes to the GCSE English specification: kids starting their course as year 10 in 2012 had their course specification changed during the summer holidays between years 10 and 11. The Department of Education consulted at Easter 2013, responded around June/July 2013 and had the specification changed to remove the speaking and listening component in the August. It seems extraordinary that OFQUAL went along with this: is the benefit to the kids of an immediate changed specification, where their teachers are scrabbling to keep up and having to change all their planning, so great that it outweighs the less stressful option of letting that cohort finish the course they started and instead implementing it with the year below? How can it be justified?

The current year 9 have chosen their GCSE options without many of the new specifications signed off. How can this be fair to them? Isn't it a basic standard of competence to finish defining a task before you expect someone to commit to taking it on? It is a basic, practical consideration to ensure that the person teaching them knows what their student is supposed to be able to do. Why the rush? What is the benefit that outweighs the extra stress for both kids and teachers of being held to account by an unreasonable 'boss' who doesn't give them the tools they need for the best chance of success? Again, the failure is a central one, leaving everybody else to pick up the pieces. And being put down while they do so.

The new KS1 and KS2 SATS tests, hurried out without meaningful evaluation. The publishing of the KS1 test shows how incompetent the whole department processes are. These tests originally were meant to evaluate performance in deciles and the tests frameworks were developed to try to do this. Then it was decided that it would be a pass/fail test to determine whether children had reached a 'national standard'. At that point the test structure should have changed: performance no longer needs to be separated out. Yet the 'standard' hasn't been defined: there's a load of waffling about PISA and how important it is to set the 'standardised scale' after the results are in. That's not a 'standard', it's a contrived threshold based on relative performance within a cohort. As this contrived 'standard' will be used to 'standardise' future tests, it is a no-brainer that results will get better: the 'standard' will be set with kids, who've barely had any time with the new curriculum, sitting a test that is unfamiliar to them (and to their teachers), with last minute samples and exemplifications. Again, the fault is central, with kids and teachers not being giving the tools to succeed. Why is it so important to introduce these tests without proper scrutiny and defined standards first? Would it be so terrible to wait a year or two?

The sad thing is that kids are being stressed unnecessarily. The driving test has a standard: it doesn't matter how anyone else does, expectations are clear, and it is repeatable. It cannot be beyond the wit of man to develop classes and types of, say, grammar questions: don't we want to know what they can do? If a primary school teacher, who is an intelligent graduate, as well as an experienced education professional, cannot teach grammar from their own knowledge, then it's not a reasonable test. If there is a 'standard' that we expect around 60-70% of kids to reach, then actually the test should be easy and straightforward for most children. Doing it properly would make it less stressful for young children: it's win/win.

Health, education etc... are starting to unravel because it's not enough to have an idea (no matter how great) to improve outcomes. Stephen Hawking isn't paid to just have ideas. It isn't difficult to design a system that will show whatever you want it to show. It isn't clever, and whatever good intentions were there at the start are lost, when there is no interest in the reality and practicalities of putting ideas into practice.

The kids are nowhere in this."