Tyranny of tests harms progress

26th August 2005 at 01:00
This week's GCSE results are a salutary reminder of the vagaries of exams.

How can a cohort of 11-year-olds whose test results leapt five years ago have notched up only a small improvement in their GCSE scores? A look at research by Durham university's Peter Tymms, profiled on page 9, may offer some explanation. His study of primary performance suggests standards of reading have scarcely risen since the mid-1990s. He thinks the improvements are mainly down to better preparation for the tests. Authoritative, unchallenged research by Professor Dylan Wiliam argues that the tests are so unreliable that at least 30 per cent of pupils are awarded the wrong level at the end of key stage 2.

But we cannot be certain that flaws in the tests are the reason for the discrepancy. The challenges facing secondary teachers as they battle with increasingly obstreperous pupils and an imperfect curriculum may explain why teenagers' progress is slower than that of primary children. Professor Wiliam suggests it makes little sense to compare results of one age group with those of another when these are based on different programmes of work.

But ministers might pause to reflect on the test and target-driven regime that has led us to make the comparison. Tests are a necessary and inevitable part of any school system. Put the results in high-stakes targets and league tables and you suggest that they have more importance and reliability than they deserve. If teachers, rather than tests, had a bigger role in assessing pupils, we might have a better idea of how much progress pupils are really making. Teaching to the test is boring for teachers and pupils and narrows the curriculum. Teachers and government advisers have made a powerful case for teacher assessment checked by some external tests. Ministers, looking nervously over their shoulders at the tabloid press, have not yet proved brave enough to agree. Meanwhile, the present regime continues to send out the depressing message that if we have tested children, we have educated them.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now