Wednesday 28 November 2018

Testing, testing, don't question the testing.

There is testing at KS1 (6 and 7 year olds) and at KS 2 (10 and 11 year olds). There may well be 'Baseline testing' for four year olds coming down the line soon. Secondary schools often feel that that the KS2 tests are not valid or reliable so they administer their own tests - often along the same sort of lines. In between, and beyond, there is inevitably a huge amount of teaching to the test which - to spell it out - frames knowledge and frames how children think about knowledge because of the questions being asked.

These questions have to have right/wrong answers or one version or another of multiple choice questions. This is because the DfE demand 'comparable outcomes' as if this is a pillar of democracy. In fact, it's an instrument of control: teachers, pupils and parents are drawn into the seeming significance of these tests as measures of children, teachers and schools and whole communities. The tests' supposedly unquestioned ability to measure what is significant is constantly put to one side. The testing, what is tested and how it is tested is forced upon us as being supposedly and unquestionably meaningful and useful.

In fact, as teachers and professionals will tell us there are many significant ways of dealing with knowledge, ideas, thought and feeling., some of them much more significant than the simply right/wrong ones. What's more, children and school students don't all have to be constantly assessed or indeed assessed in ways that are instantly marketable(ie the data) or used for 'comparative outcomes'.

High stakes, summative testing leaves no room for children or society to question the validity of reducing knowledge (and children) to people graded solely according to a right/wrong system of thought. They/we 'become' a grade that's based on this right/wrong way of thinking. And we are forced or conditioned to accept this grade as a final statement about ourselves - even though the test leaves much of who we are, how we think, how we work with others outside of the test, outside of the door.

I find that if I query the basis of a question on a test, or a test as a whole, there is always someone who will come back and 'explain' that the given question is in fact 'reasonable'. (You can find an example of this on the comments thread following my article about using a poem for last year's KS2 SATs 'Reading' paper. I've replied to the person with this:

"If you think 
a) that high stakes, summative assessment is appropriate for all 10/11 year olds, 
b) if you think that that has to be linked to league tables and the instant fate of a school and its staff 
c) if you think that this sort of thing has very little deleterious effect on teaching, pupils and the framing of what we mean by knowledge, what we mean by children's thought, what we mean by the development of thought in young people 
and d) if you think it's appropriate to ask children questions which are methodologically and intellectually wrong but that's ok for sake of being able to deliver 'comparable outcomes' to those in authority, - then the question you're referring is indeed 'reasonable'. 

The whole history of power in society is full of 'reasonable' acts within which are coercive, punitive policies designed ultimately to sustain that power and not to benefit the mass of people held within that power. It is vital within such systems that they produce an elite which quickly adopts and justifies the system that has enabled them to become the elite."

Ironically, within private education and in the homes of people who don't think like this - for whatever reason -, other principles are used - enquiry, discovery, fostering curiosity, stimulating informed interpretation, dialogue, questioning, invention ('creativity') and emphasis on the arts - music, drama, dance, drawing, painting, 3-D play and using holidays as a time to explore and discover history, geography, biology ('nature') in playful ways. It's schools that are being prevented from doing these things while - yes Ok we can call ourselves 'Middle class' parents - are doing these things anyway. Guess who are the big losers in all this? The ones who have to stick with the strait-jacketed - 'learn this and regurgitate it identically tomorrow' children.

I am amazed, delighted and in awe of teachers and schools who struggle against this strait-jacket, who fight like crazy to include as much of this other kind of curriculum in they work. I'm lucky to meet many of them every week in workshops, conferences and in the schools I visit.

Frequently, they have found ways to work against the demands of the testing regime, they suspend the curriculum for e.g. a day a week, or a week per term. They do e.g. 'whole school texts' which teachers explore in many different ways at the same time working across disciplines, using the creative arts and so on. We need to hear much more about schools and teachers doing these things.