Posts tagged ‘education’

If I were the super…

What the school board could have done… In a nutshell they chose to divide our community when they could have chosen to unite the community.


Continue Reading April 16, 2012 at 5:36 am Leave a comment

Defend Parkrose schools — it’s about time

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PARKROSE school board has not shifted its contract offer once in more than ten months. The Parkrose teachers’ union, the PFA, has made five significant moves to try to get an agreement on the teachers’ contract.

Now the board and superintendent have declared an impasse. Unless negotiations produce a settlement in the next few weeks, the board can unilaterally impose its final offer any time after Wednesday 11 April. Update: The board has issued a letter of intent saying it will impose its contract on Tuesday 17 April and PFA members have voted by more than 90% to give the authority for a strike Wednesday 25 April onwards.

The board’s contract will mean up to $1,200 a month less in teachers pay for the next six months plus between $300 and $600 less each month after that.

Of course, teachers are worried about such punitive pay cuts. They have families too. But the real fears are about how they can continue to do their jobs well and the future of education in Parkrose. Teachers’ working conditions are the learning conditions for students.

For the teachers it’s about time.

This year teachers agreed to a new schedule that increased their hours in the classroom by nearly 15% — nearly three weeks extra teaching time a year. The number of students teachers now see each day has more than doubled, up to 240 each day for some teachers. Class sizes have soared, some are now as high as 40+.

And time for daily preparation was cut in half, to less than 50 minutes.

On average teachers now have 56 seconds for each student each week in prep time. That to cover lesson prep, assessment, grading.

Because these schedules and prep cuts were imposed in September, the superintendent and board disingenuously and loudly claim their imposed contract will not affect teacher’s time. It’s only about greedy and selfish teachers wanting to take more cash they say.

Teachers’ workloads have gone up to make up for almost two dozen teacher jobs lost. Without the remaining teachers picking up that loss, many students could not now accrue the classes and credits needed for graduation. Teachers are more than doing their bit.

This year’s incoming freshpeople are going to struggle to graduate, simply by virtue of the fact that there are too few teachers to teach too few courses for them to get the requisite 26 credits. The arts and foreign languages have been particularly hard hit.

All this is causing serious stress inside the schools… for students as well as teachers.

The teachers’ union, PFA, wants to discuss workload issues. The teachers are particularly resentful of the increased form-filling bureaucracy insisted on by the superintendent, which seems more about the superintendent imposing her inflexible managerial will rather than helping teachers use valuable time efficiently.

Arrogant and pompous lectures by board members — particularly the board chair — about how to be a good teacher just exacerbate teacher frustration. Board members have barely spent hours let alone, days, weeks, months and years in the classroom.

The board and superintendent refuse to even talk about such issues, issues which seriously impact students. Ask your own student.

Teachers know school budgets are tight. That’s why last year the teachers agreed to ten unpaid furlough days — a 5% cut in pay — in a bid to keep teachers jobs. But the district still pink-slipped 13 teachers, including gutting another six from the high school.

This year teachers have offered a package that cuts their pay by up to $200 a month, with five days furlough this year and another six next year as well as changes to benefits packages.

But this is not good enough for the board and superintendent.

They also want to be able to tear up the contract any time and demand more cuts from the teachers… most likely more cuts in the school year next year but not excluding more pay and benefits cuts.

They claim there is no spare cash, period. But the audit and small print show there is enough to fund the difference between the board’s proposed punitive pay cut for teachers and what would still be a substantial pay cut for teachers, but a pay cut that teachers and their families can survive.

More than $2.2 million in the budget is unassigned. A further staggering $0.5 million is assigned to teacher early retirement, to cover the unlikely event that all those who could qualify for early retirement will all apply in one go. And there appear to be bits and pieces salted away in other budget heads. And for the past years the board has always spent short of its budget as every final audit — including this year’s — shows.

Teachers are not saying those sums should be assigned to their pay, far from it: but it is possible for the board to negotiate and move to make bearable the pay cut the teachers have said they will take. $400,000 is the difference between the survivable pay cut put forward by the teachers and the punitive pay cut demanded by the board and superintendent.

After all, there is enough money to fund a $7,000 rise for the superintendent, taking her total package to some $170,000 a year, $30,000 more than that of Sam Adams, mayor of the city of Portland.

And while teachers jobs have gone from the Parkrose classrooms — 23 in the past three years — jobs have been added in the superintendent’s district office.

This rigid and vindictive attitude by the superintendent and her board seems to indicate there is more to this year’s negotiations than meets the eye.

The reality is the school board and superintendent are exploiting the budget crisis to go much further than just balancing a budget. They are using the budget crisis, shock-and-awe, to destroy the teachers as a collective body, destroy their union. Inevitably this must undermine teaching and real education for school students in Parkrose.

What the board wins now, it has no intention of giving back later. Its proposed cuts and imposed working conditions — for students as well as teachers — inside the schools will be permanent.

When school funding eases the school board will not come back, saying words to the effect of, hey guys, thanks, let’s talk.

As the board chair angrily told PFA negotiators — when no members of the public were present — the board simply thinks teachers are overpaid. And that’s what it’s about. Cutting teachers down to low-paid classroom operatives. The result will be a dumbing down of public education in Parkrose, lessons and student support reduced to the lowest rote common denominator.

This is about cynically using a real budget crisis to tear apart teachers’ pay and working conditions, and emasculate the union as a credible negotiating partner. For ever… or, at least the next decade.

There are clear signs that the board is working in collusion with the neighboring Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds school boards to undermine all teachers across the East County. The aim appears to be to gut the Oregon Education Association in the East County area.

Gresham-Barlow school board has voted to impose its teacher-busting contract on 22 March and Reynolds is expected to declare impasse shortly. The three boards are coordinating their timetables to weaken the impact of any teacher strikes. Teachers need to give ten days notice of strike action.

Whether or not it is the intention of individual board members, their version of the contract will further reduce the student experience in Parkrose to the lowest test-based production line. The actions of the board and superintendent will make teaching in Parkrose become a low-low middle class job, not even a profession. And the result will be to make education even more a mechanical chore for the students.

Planned creative lessons will give way to whatever can be scrambled together, focusing on test needs. If senior experienced teachers retire early, so what? After all, there’s lots of young, eager new graduates willing to take low-paid jobs. Why pay experienced teachers? Why, even, encourage or help young teachers become experienced teachers?

Gresham-Barlow is imposing a contract that allows it to get rid of experienced teachers in favor of lower-paid, inexperienced teachers.

The boards just need cheap, licensed warm bodies to stand at the front of overcrowded classrooms teaching to the test. It’s the test numbers they follow. And when they go up — which they have — the Parkrose board passes a resolution congratulating… itself!

The Parkrose board clearly signaled its attitude when it slashed the working hours and conditions of the Parkrose classified staff — custodians, educational assistants, admin staff — cutting benefits and pay to poverty levels. And leaving the most vulnerable students without the full support needed.

The superintendent’s increasingly outdated autocratic, mechanical and bureaucratic management style — modeling her much-touted need for collaboration by refusing to collaborate with her own staff — points to a fundamental lack of inspirational vision, a future of Parkrose schools staffed by low-paid teachers working at a level barely above test-prep crammers.

Large class sizes, rote lessons, little support, oppressive demoralizing management, teaching to the bureaucratic form and mechanical decree, all-important tests, bewildered and uninspired students. Factories, not schools.

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The PFA web site is at

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March 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm 2 comments

Assessment… a new sort of gradebook

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WHAT could authentic assessment look like in the classroom?

For four years I have been experimenting in my math classroom to replace percentage and letter grades with much more meaningful descriptive feedback.

There’s no shortage of percentage-based grade books for teachers. Punch in the numbers and out come the letter grades.assess_screen_02
Assignments built from learning targets with student self-assessmentassess_screen_04 They don’t tell the student what they need to do to improve… they don’t even tell the student what it is they have achieved.

They just divert the student’s attention with a meaningless letter grade from the essential tasks of learning. The frustrated and anxious student is left vainly to plead for extra credit in a bid to get more nonsense points.

The challenge is to create a gradebook that is not based on numbers and letters, but records descriptive progress and gives the student the sort of valuable feedback that describes just what it is they need to do to improve their learning.

Well, take a look at this powerpoint and let me know what you think.

The system is based on student-friendly learning targets. Assignments and questions are all linked to a learning target.

Against each assignment and learning target the teacher can record and feedback to the student a description — ranging from Starting through Getting it to Got it — and add a suggested revision learning target plus a customized study skill tip.

It also records the student’s own self-assessment of progress.

And rather than add up meaningless percentages, the system summarizes to what extent the teacher and student agree on their assessment of progress.

It can show a matrix of an individual student’s progress. Or, it can show, color-coded, the progress of an entire class.

Input screens allow the teacher to add questions (+ pictures, diagrams and equations), new targets, target notes and assignments — and link them together in a host of assignment designs.

December 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm 1 comment

Working inside the black box

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YET MORE research is now available to confirm that alpha-numeric grading and traditional testing not only do nothing to promote learning… but actually lower achievement.

Since the late ’90s the team assembled around Prof Paul Black at King’s College, London, has steadily chipped away at the traditionalist approaches to assessment with their Inside the Black Box series.

“In terms of systems engineering, present policies in the US and in many other countries seem to treat the classroom as a black box,” Black and Dylan Wiliam argued a decade ago. “Certain inputs from the outside — pupils, teachers, other resources, management rules and requirements, parental anxieties, standards, tests with high stakes, and so on — are fed into the box.

“Some outputs are supposed to follow: pupils who are more knowledgeable and competent, better test results, teachers who are reasonably satisfied, and so on.

“But what is happening inside the box?” they asked.(October 1998 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 80, No. 2.)

Their books and articles have since influenced tens of thousands of teachers and educational professionals around the world. But while their reasoning has changed both thinking and practice in the UK and Europe, it has yet to take a hold in US public schools which remain fettered by traditionalist, formulaic practice and teaching children to collect points.

Now Black, Wiliam and colleagues have produced a new series of slim pamphlets taking the argument further and giving specific advice and a wealth of teaching points tailored to key subject areas, with an overall summary Working Inside the Black Box.

The pamphlets, published by GL Assessment, focus on maths, english and science.

Working inside the black box means focussing on assessment inside the classroom with the priority of serving student learning: “It thus differs from assessment designed primarily to serve the purposes of accountability, or of ranking, or of certifying competence.

“An assessment activity can help learning if it provides information to be used as feedback, by teachers, and by their pupils, in assessing themselves and each other, to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged.

“Such assessment becomes ‘formative assessment’ when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching work to meet learning needs.”

Research experiments have established that, whilst pupils’ learning can be advanced by feedback through comments, the giving of marks — or grades — has a negative effect in that pupils ignore comments when marks are also given (Butler, 1988).

“These results often surprise teachers, but those who have abandoned the giving of marks find that their experience confirms the findings: pupils do engage more productively in improving their work,” says the Black team.

“The central point here is that, to be effective, feedback should cause thinking to take place… the assessment of pupils’ work will be seen less as a competitive and summative judgement and more as a distinctive step in the process of learning.

“The key to effective learning is to then find ways to help pupils restructure their knowledge to build in new and more powerful ideas… that learning was not a process of passive reception of knowledge, but one in which the learners were active in creating their own understandings. Put simply, it became clear that, no matter what the pressure to achieve good test and examination scores, learning cannot be done for the pupil; it has to be done by the pupil.”

Teachers in the UK involved in a two-year experiment demanded to learn more about the psychology of learning after working on such formative assessment practice in the classroom:”Learning is not just a cognitive exercise: it involves the whole person. The need to motivate pupils is evident, but it is often assumed that this is best done by offering such extrinsic rewards s merits, grades, gold stars and prizes. There is ample evidence that challenges this assumption.

“Pupils will only invest effort in a task if they believe that they can achieve something. If a learning exercise is seen as a competition, then everyone is aware that there will be losers as well as winners: those who have a track record as losers will see little point in trying.

“Thus, the problem is to motivate everyone, even though some are bound to achieve less than others. In tackling this problem, the type of feedback given is very important.

“Feedback given as rewards or grades enhances ego — rather than task — involvement. It can focus pupils’ attention on their ‘ability’ rather than on the importance of effort, damaging the self-esteem of low attainers and leading to problems of ‘learned helplessness’ (Dweck 1986).

“Feedback that focusses on the needs to be done can encourage all to believe that they can improve. Such feedback can enhance learning, both directly through the effort that can ensue, and indirectly by supporting the motivation to invest such effort.

“When feedback focusses on the student as a good or bad achiever, emphasising overall judgement by marks, grades or rank order lists, it focusses attention on the self (what researchers have called ego-involvement).

“A synthesis of 131 rigorous scientific studies showed this kind of feedback actually lowered performance (Kluger + DeNisi 1996). In other words, performance would have been higher if no feedback had been given.

“This is because such feedback discourages the low attainers, but also makes high attainers avoid tasks if they cannot see their way to success, for failure would be seen as bad news about themselves rather than an opportunity to learn.

“In contrast, when feedback focuses not on the person but on the strengths and weaknesses of the particular piece or work (task-involving feedback) and what needs to be done to improve, performance is enhanced, especially when feedback focuses not only what is to be done but also on how to go about it.

“Such feedback encourages all students, whatever their past achievements, that they can do better by trying, and that they can learn from mistakes and failures (see Dweck 1999).”

Quotes taken from:

Working Inside the Black Box, Dept of Education + Professional Studies, King’s College London by Paul Black, Christine Harrison, Clare Lee, Bethan Marshall and Dylan Wiliam

Mathematics Inside the Black Box, Dept of Education + Professional Studies, King’s College London, by Jeremy Hodgen and Dylan Wiliam.

❏ If this article was of interest, try… No prizes in points

❏ PiFactory’s descriptive grading rubrics can be found at:

October 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm 1 comment

Student self-assessment − the research says…

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Student self-assessment… what does the research say?

Education Place: When students are collaborators in assessment, they develop the habit of self-reflection. They learn the qualities of good work, how to judge their work against these qualities, how to step back from their work to assess their own efforts and feelings of accomplishment, and how to set personal goals (Reif, 1990; Wolf, 1989). These are qualities of self-directed learners, not passive learners. As teachers model, guide, and provide practice in self-assessment, students learn that assessment is not something apart from learning or something done to them, but a collaboration between teachers and students, and an integral part of how they learn and improve.

The Center for Development and Learning: Self-evaluation is defined as students judging the quality of their work, based on evidence and explicit criteria, for the purpose of doing better work in the future. When we teach students how to assess their own progress, and when they do so against known and challenging quality standards, we find that there is a lot to gain. Self-evaluation is a potentially powerful technique because of its impact on student performance through enhanced self-efficacy and increased intrinsic motivation.

Testing, Motivation and Learning, Assessment Reform Group: The degree to which learners are able to regulate their own learning also appears to foster pupils’ interest and to promote focus on the intrinsic features of their work. Pupils who have some control over their work by being given choice and by being encouraged to evaluate their own work are more likely to value the learning itself rather than to focus only on whether or not it is correct.

Beyond the Black Box, Assessment for Learning Group: Current thinking about learning acknowledges that learners must ultimately be responsible for their learning since no-one else can do it for them. Thus assessment for learning must involve pupils, so as to provide them with information about how well they are doing and guide their subsequent efforts. Much of this information will come as feedback from the teacher, but some will be through their direct involvement in assessing their own work. The awareness of learning and ability of learners to direct it for themselves is of increasing importance in the context of encouraging lifelong learning… But it is important to remember that it is the pupils who will take the next steps and the more they are involved in the process, the greater will be their understanding of how to extend their learning. Thus action that is most likely to raise standards will follow when pupils are involved in decisions about their work rather than being passive recipients of teachers’ judgements of it.

More to follow…

February 19, 2008 at 6:46 am Leave a comment

Assessment — when the numbers don’t add up

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ASSESSMENT and numbers don’t go together, they’re not like terms.

Yet numbers are still at the heart of most grading done by teachers, even math teachers.

Numbers in assessment do only harm.

For a start they are grossly inaccurate, offering only spurious objectivity. But mostly they divert students from focussing on their learning. Ditto if you replace the numbers with letters.

In short, alpha-numeric grades suck.Students focus on their learning when they no longer feel the need to focus on grades. Shift the feedback from numbers and letters to descriptive feedback, and you shift the focus from grades to learning. Focus on the learning and forget the grades.Let’s look at the accuracy.

A teacher scores assignments on a range of 0 to 4. He, or rather his percentage-based grading software, converts the number to a percentage.Say he has a student who mostly scores threes. Except on some days it is raining and our teacher is grumpy and gives a two. Or, on sunny days he is happy and feeling generous and gives a full 4.

Over, say, 12 assignments the average score would be 36. If it was always raining, the score would be 24. If always sunny the score would be 48. That’s plus or minus 12 out of a total possible score of 48, plus or minus 25 per cent.Now, let’s assume our teacher only swings 0.5 either way. If it always rains, the score would be 30, or if it shines as high as 36. That’s plus or minus six out of 48, or plus or minus 12.5 per cent.

Now let’s assume our teacher is obsessive. He scores directly as a percentage, a number out of 100. Presumably he must have have 100 criteria on which he is making the decision… 1 per cent per criteria.

Well, let’s assume the plus or minus on the average grade of 75 per cent is between say 70 per cent at its lowest on a rainy day and 80 per cent for sunny days. Then that’s plus or minus 5 per cent.

At the end of the semester is the student grade C, B or A? Well, the student could have gotten some 4s on sunny days, so on some days the student was grade A. On rainy days, the student was struggling to get a C.In percentage terms the student was probably a secure B. Or, maybe not. What if in percentage terms the student was plus or minus 5 per cent on an average of 85 per cent, or even a little higher. A or B?

But on what basis was the teacher scoring? How to define a score down to one point out of 100, or even five points out of 100? Against what is the score, percentage, defined? After all, mathematically a percentage must be out of something. What is the something? Does the student know. Indeed, does the teacher know?

Some teachers are confident they do. I’ve watched as a student, eyes full of tears (of anger or frustration?) appealed an 89 per cent and seen the teacher abdicate their professional judgement and refuse to budge from the magic computer-generated number and concede the A. She must have been confident her grading was consistently well within a margin of error of less than one in 100.I’ve seen a teacher post percentages to three decimal places… presumably the teacher had a rubric defining their grading down to 100,000 criteria!

As Alfie Kohn has pointed out in his inspirational The Schools our Children Deserve “what grades offer is spurious precision — a subjective rating masquerading as an objective evaluation.”

Research, Kohn says, has long been available confirming what all teachers know: any given assignment may well be given two different grades by two equally-qualified teachers. “It may even be given two different grades by a single teacher who reads it at two different times,” says Kohn.

Quoting Paul Dressel’s 1957 article Facts and fancy in assigning grades, Kohn says a grade “is an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgement by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of material.”

As Kohn says: “A teacher can meticulously record scores for one test or assignment after another, eventually calculating averages down to a hundredth of a percentage point, but that doesn’t change the arbitrariness of each individual mark.”

But what if a teacher counts right answers, surely that must give an objective assessment?

What about the student who clearly understands the concept, but made a silly computational error? What about the student who gets the right answer by successfully repeating the steps of an algorithm, but who cannot explain why the algorithm works or what it means?

Does that assessment say much about either student’s learning? More to the point, does the assessment do anything to help either student achieve learning?

So, what about numbers, points, percentages, letters… and focus on learning?

As the Assessment Reform Group has concluded: “Feedback that emphasises relative performance, for example marks or grades which are formally or informally compared with those of others, encourages pupils to concentrate on getting better grades rather than on deeper understanding.”

Alan Blankstein in Failure is NOT an Option, arguing that “grades and test scores do not reflect what children are really learning,” points to an example of a child whose “intrinsic motivation to learn and do well has been replaced by an external motivator: grades”.

As Alfie Kohn concludes: “Research has found three consistent effects of traditional grades: students think less creatively, they lose interest in what they’re learning, and they try to avoid challenging tasks.

“Thus, rather than trying to improve techniques for grading, we should be looking for alternatives − and rather than complaining that too many students are getting A’s, we should be worried that too many students think that getting A’s is the point of education”

February 17, 2008 at 8:12 am 5 comments

The research gives testing an F

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FINALS week and the school goes effectively into something akin to lock-down. Students are tense, withdrawn, depressed. So are the teachers. For me it’s the most depressing week of the semester.

For the past couple of years I’ve managed to work round it completely. Instead of a final where students work in isolation for an hour-plus to show how well they cope with stress, I’ve organized sessions where students pick a couple of challenging questions from a packet and work collaboratively in groups to show their best work.

Each question is labelled with the math skill most needed. The kids are asked to pick questions based on the skills they’ve not fully understood during the semester.

The room has usually been buzzy with chatter. If they get stuck, I help out. When everyone has had enough the kids complete a form explaining why they should get the grade they think they deserve. Then we play chess.

The final grade is based on a descriptive grades rubric which the kids were given on day one of the semester. All work throughout the semester is graded on descriptive rubrics.

The policy of other teachers varies: Some run sessions which amount to little more than giving a quiz right through to the full-blown terror thing. 

Finals brings out the simmering discussion between the Skinnerite behaviourists who sincerely believe you train students to behave like learners in the hope they become learners…and constructivists who believe students construct meaning and learning for themselves and their teachers try to create the atmosphere where that happens. 

I’m a constructivist. And I don’t believe testing helps students create their own meaning which in turn becomes learning. In fact, I believe testing can be a crippling blow to the learning hopes of many pupils.

My aspirations are summed up by this brief section from Alfie Kohn’s The Schools our Children Deserve:

“… the best teachers do not rely much on paper-and-pencil tests because they rarely need them to know how their students are doing. Teachers who base their practice on a constructivist theory of learning are always watching and listening… this kind of informal assessment is continuous, making things like quizzes very nearly superfluous.

 “We might even say that the more a teacher needs formal tests to gauge student achievement, the more something is wrong. (With direct instruction, the teacher is talking more than listening, so traditional exams would be seen as necessary.)

“As parents, we shouldn’t be worried about teachers who rarely give tests; we should be worried about those who need to give frequent tests because they have no feel fo how their students’ minds work.”

So, unburdened by the need to spend hours with my red pen ticking and counting and working out percentages to many decimal places… I spent some time reading some research on testing.

The Assessment Reform Group, based at the UK’s Cambridge University school of education, has been in the lead in argueing for constructivist forms of assessment. Its pamphlet Testing, Motivation and Learning a classic. It reviewed 180-plus studies. It is tempting to simply quote the document in full… but here’s a representative selection of its conclusions.

Testing has a negative affect on pupil motivation.

The self-esteem of low-achieving pupils is particularly adversely affected by testing.

The testing ethos narrows the curriculum.

When tests pervade the ethos of the classroom, performance is more highly valued than what is being learned.

Repeated test practice encourage pupils to avoid responsibility and effort. It is detrimental to higher-order thinking.

Pupils should not be faced with tests in which they are unlikely to experience success.

“What emerges is strong evidence of the negative impact of testing on pupils’ motivation… Many aspects of the impact have significant consequences for pupils’ future learning. and thus are causes for concern.”

“One impact of the tests was the reduction in self esteem of those pupils who did not achieve well.”

“Pupils are aware of repeated practice tests and the narrowing of the curriculum. Only those confident of success enjoy the tests. In taking tests, high achievers are more persistent, use appropriate test taking strategies and have more positive self-perceptions than low achievers. Low achievers become overwhelmed by assessments and de-motivated by constant evidence of their low achievement. The effect is to increase the gap between low and high achieving pupils.”

“Lower achieving pupils are doubly disadvantaged by tests. Being labelled as failures has an impact on how they feel about their ability to learn. It also lowers further their already low self-esteem and reduces the chance of future effort and success. Only when low achievers have a high level of support (from school or home), which shows them how to improve, do some escape from this vicious circle.”

“When tests pervade the ethos of the classroom, test performance is more highly valued than what is being learned. When tests become the main criteria by which pupils are judged, and by which they judge themselves, those whose strengths lie outside the subjects tested have a low opinion of their capabilities.”

“The use of repeated practice tests impresses on pupils the importance of the tests. It encourages them to adopt test-taking strategies designed to avoid effort and responsibility. Repeated practice tests are, therefore, detrimental to higher order thinking.”

“The evidence suggests that teachers can be very effective in training pupils to pass tests even when the pupils do not have the understanding or higher order thinking skills that the tests are intended to measure. When test results are used for making decisions that affect the status or future of pupils, teachers or schools (‘high stakes tests’), teachers adopt a teaching style that emphasises transmission of knowledge. This favours those pupils who prefer to learn by mastering information presented sequentially. Those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences are disadvantaged and their self-esteem is lowered. External tests have a constricting effect on the curriculum, resulting in emphasis on the subjects tested at the expense of creativity and personal and social development.”

“The results of tests that are ‚”high stakes” for individual pupils have been found to have a particularly strong impact on those who receive low grades. However, tests that are high stakes for schools rather than for pupils (such as the national tests in England and state-mandated tests in the US) can have just as much impact.”

“Instead of motivation increasing with age, older pupils feel more resentment, anxiety, cynicism and mistrust of standardized achievement tests. Girls are reported as expressing more test anxiety than boys. Girls are also more likely to think that the source of success or failure lies within themselves rather than being influenced by external circumstances. This has consequences for their self-esteem, especially when they view their potential as fixed.”

“Feedback from the teacher that focuses on how to improve or build on what has been done (described as task-related) is associated with greater interest and effort. Feedback that emphasises relative performance, for example marks or grades which are formally or informally compared with those of others, encourages pupils to concentrate on getting better grades rather than on deeper understanding.”

The degree to which learners are able to regulate their own learning also appears to foster pupils’ interest and to promote focus on the intrinsic features of their work (15). Pupils who have some control over their work by being given choice and by being encouraged to evaluate their own work are more likely to value the learning itself rather than to focus only on whether or not it is correct.”

The research shows that the negative impact of tests can be reduced by ceasing to focus teaching on test content. It can also be reduced by ending the practice of ‘training’ pupils in how to pass the tests and by preventing the use of class time for repeated practice tests. Pupils should not be faced with tests in which they are unlikely to experience success.”

The ARG says do more of this…

q    Provide choice and help pupils to take responsibility for their learning.

q    Discuss with pupils the purpose of their learning and provide feedback that will help the learning process.

q    Encourage pupils to judge their work by how much they have learned and by the progress they have made.

q    Help pupils to understand the criteria by which their learning is assessed and to assess their own work.

q    Develop pupils’

understanding of the goals of their work in terms of what they are learning; provide feedback to pupils in relation to these goals.

q    Help pupils to understand where they are in relation to learning goals and how to make further progress.

q    Give feedback that enables pupils to know the next steps and how to succeed in taking them. Encourage pupils to value effort and a wide range of attainments.

q    Encourage collaboration among pupils and a positive view of each others’ attainments.

and do less of this …

q    Define the curriculum in terms of what is in the tests to the detriment of what is not tested.

q    Give frequent drill and practice for test taking. Teach how to answer specific test questions. Allow pupils to judge their work in terms of scores or grades.

q    Allow test anxiety to impair some pupils’ performance (particularly girls and lower performing pupils). Use tests and assessment to tell students where they are in relation to others.

q    Give feedback relating to pupils’ capabilities, implying a fixed view of each pupil’s potential.

q    Compare pupils’ grades and allow pupils to compare grades, giving status on the basis of test achievement only.

q    Emphasise competition for marks or grades among pupils.

For a constructive alternative to testing take a look at the ARGs pamphlet  Assessment for Learning:Beyond the Black Box.

There’s lots more at The Assessment Reform Group.

And Alfie Kohn on testing is an inspiring read.

You can get my grading rubrics and some further thoughts at The PiFactory assessment page.

February 16, 2008 at 9:20 pm Leave a comment


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