ED Hirsch: teacher assessment is 'pretty darn valid'

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The influential US educationalist ED Hirsch has spoken out in favour of teacher assessment, arguing that it is “pretty darn valid” and could be used to encourage schools to teach a knowledge-based curriculum.

Professor Hirsch, who has been described by schools minister Nick Gibb as an important influence on the government’s curriculum reforms, made the comments at an event hosted by Cambridge Assessment this week.

“The real point of formative assessments based on a definite curriculum is, first of all, they’re hard to cheat because you can make them the night before and, secondly, I’m told by testing experts that these ad-hoc tests are pretty darn valid,” he said. He added that research had found formative assessments were “about 80 per cent as good” as formal external tests.

His comments may come as a surprise because he has inspired ministers who have overseen a move away from teacher assessment towards formal exams.

Professor Hirsch, who is professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia, said a greater emphasis on formative tests could encourage schools to teach “the Kings of England and facts historical” instead of holding “iPad hour”.

His comments came in response to a question from Hywel Jones, head of the West London Free School, about how all schools could be encouraged to focus on teaching a “core knowledge” curriculum, despite academies and free schools being able to opt out of the national curriculum.

Mr Jones said the two primary schools in the West London Free School Academy Trust taught “aspects of geography and basic English historical knowledge as well as aspects of history of art and of literature”, but that other local primary schools did not “follow any kind of core knowledge curriculum at all” and instead had “things like iPad hour on the curriculum”.

In response Professor Hirsch said the introduction of more “curriculum-based assessments” would be “a pretty simple solution to that problem”.

He said: “I do think a gentle guide that, yes, you can do what you want but you’re going to be evaluated [using knowledge-based tests] is a really splendid way...that would seem to me to be the encouragement for not doing iPad hour but doing the Kings of England and facts historical.” 

Professor Hirsch added that formative tests were "quite adequate and could very well be accepted" for this purpose.  

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