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As we enter those awful few months in England where it seems every child in the system is to be subjected to a whole raft of tests and exams, and there's no time of teaching and learning because we are all too busy measuring and weighing, I wonder if there any forum members with experience of alternative systems in the a more sensible balance is achieved.

I certainly cannot believe that the current regime of testing in England does anything to foster a "love of learning" in our students. It would appear to me to turn the student's experience into a series of boring chores. What's more the art of "mental regurgitation" which "brings home the certificates" at school level doesn't appear to have many transferable applications in later life :)

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Andy

Be careful not to "rubbish" formalized exams, testing and assessment. Throwing the baby out with the bath water is NOT the answer, better exams, testing and assesment are. I concede that the examination system is not perfect, but it absolutely and certainly allows an objective comparison of one kid, on one day, to another kid on the same day. Does it give the complete picture of the kids abilities? - Of course not, but it is an objective snapshot.

Compare that to the USA where high school transcripts still rule. With transcripts there is NO standardization. Even teachers teaching the same subject in the same building at the same school may not be teaching the same syllabus or assessing in the same way, let alone form school to school, state to state etc. In that case the numbers mean next to nothing and one has to turn to SAT, SAT II and AP scores for any meaningful comparisons.

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In my subject area, modern foreign languages (MFL), examinations are important. We test four discrete skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) rather than stuff that kids can simply regurgitate, i.e. performance is crucial. The problem is that the MFL National Curriculum and the exams associated with it don't appear to be focusing on the skills that children will need later in life, e.g. most employers probably require good listening and speaking skills rather than reading and writing skills. Writing skills in a business context are in any case best carried out by native speakers of the language.

To a large extent our national examinations in MFL are of little meaning to employers. I worked on a language training project with a number of different European airlines a few years ago. The training staff of the British airlines that selected new entrants to the profession for specialised language training, e.g. for check-in staff and cabin crew, considered our national examinations to be of little relevance. They therefore set their own language tests. They found that a Higher GCSE qualification, for example, was too low as a starting point for specialised language training and the skills that it had tested were not the skills that the airlines required. Consequently, British airlines tend to employ foreign nationals, e.g. from France, Germany or Spain, who speak English when they need someone with language skills.

Leaving aside possible future employers, I have observed countless young Brits with GCSEs in French and German on holiday abroad, struggling to put a couple of sentences together and totally failing to understand the locals. Some years ago I went on a package holiday in an Austrian ski resort. The travel company rep in the resort was a pleasant young woman, aged around 25, who had a BA in Business Studies and German. As a teacher of German, I rated her German at approximately the same level as the English of an Austrian aged 17 studying tourism at a vocational college.

Things are beginning to get better. We have finally begun to recognise the Council of Europe's Common European Framework for Languages, which stresses communicative competence across the four skills. See the Languages Ladder at

http://www.dfes.gov.uk/languages/DSP_languagesladder.cfm

where a Higher GCSE is equated with the CEF level B1.

I wonder, however, how many young Brits with a Higher GCSE would actually match up to the CEF level B1, which is the so-called Threshold Level, i.e. the point at which you begin to communicate confidently. I doubt it, frankly. There are online tests available in the three skills listening, reading and writing, which might give the answer: http://www.dialang.org

The tests were devised by an international consortium: the DIALANG project.

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Andy

Be careful not to "rubbish" formalized exams, testing and assessment. Throwing the baby out with the bath water is NOT the answer, better exams, testing and assesment are. I concede that the examination system is not perfect, but it absolutely and certainly allows an objective comparison of one kid, on one day, to another kid on the same day. Does it give the complete picture of the kids abilities? - Of course not, but it is an objective snapshot.

Though I understand why Adrian may be uncomfortable with the American experience I have to say I disagree with a great deal of his recent post.

The most pressing problem in the UK at the moment is the number of exams the excessive nature of which goobles up virtually the entire 3rd term in schools these days, creates damaging student stress, and oppressive boredom towards learning at younger and younger ages, and creates enormous problems and associated difficulties for ridiculously overstretched exam boards finding suitably qualified examiners and moderators - and all for what??? Ever inflated results which allow teachers to claim their PRP, schools to meet their targets and the government to claim they have "raised standards" in our schools. Didn't someone forget to take the needs of students into account here?

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Andy

I can't say that I necessarily disagree with most of what you say, but that's not to say that the system of formal examinations still isn't the best way of assessment.

It strikes me that the only people that have anything to fear from "hard" assessment like standardized, external exams, are incompetent teachers. Most of the teachers that I know who favor "soft" assessment are the ones who are poor practitioners.

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It strikes me that the only people that have anything to fear from "hard" assessment like standardized, external exams, are incompetent teachers. Most of the teachers that I know who favor "soft" assessment are the ones who are poor practitioners.

And my experience is quite the opposite - it is the incompetent and wholly unambitious teachers - allied to the bureaucrats and politicians who 'just can't trust teachers' - who see testing and results as a "subsitute" for the inspirational teaching and positive attitude to learning that they are incapable of delivering or facilitating.

Perhaps we can agree on one thing - there is too much "testing" in the UK system?? (I suspect that you have been out of the UK system for some time Adrian).

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Guest Adrian Dingle

I said;

It strikes me that the only people that have anything to fear from "hard" assessment like standardized, external exams, are incompetent teachers. Most of the teachers that I know who favor "soft" assessment are the ones who are poor practitioners.

Andy said;

And my experience is quite the opposite - it is the incompetent and wholly unambitious teachers - allied to the bureaucrats and politicians who 'just can't trust teachers' - who see testing and results as a "subsitute" for the inspirational teaching and positive attitude to learning that they are incapable of delivering or facilitating.

Fair enough, one speaks as one finds!

I've been out of the UK system for 4 years. I doubt that it in that time there has been much change in the amount or intensity of testing. Part of my last job in the UK was Examinations Officer in a Tutorial College (the VERY definiton of an Exam Factory!)

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I can see Andy's point about the number of exams having apparently increased over recent years in the UK but I am not sure this is only applicable to the third term of the school year. Many of the increases have appeared through newly designed modular courses having formal examinations at every stage throughout the course. Rather than having short sharp tests, reflecting the percentage of marks these carry in the overall picture, they seem to have become ever more time hungry and onerous. Some of the new vocational courses are also examination heavy - I can hardly believe that at this time there is a 'mock' IT examination taking place in our school which has to be carried out over 20 hours!! The actual exam in Year 11 will take place over 40 hours... B)

Coursework is another bone of contention - examining in a different form and in most cases hardly an inspiring exercise for either teacher or student. Does this represent time spent developing a student's interest in and grasp of a subject. I hardly think so - it is another hoop designed by exam boards for us to jump through. A good idea in theory but trial over the years has shown that it has become virtually valueless in terms of real assessment of student achievement.

(The science forum has already discussed this at length.)

I have no interest in signing up as an examiner or moderator - I'm already too worn out with and bored by all the coursework assessment for my own classes!

There are many well qualified and competent teachers who feel the same - this is one good reason why there is a continuing shortage of examiners each year.

I don't quite know what Adrian means by 'soft assessment' - truly formative assessment is not a soft option but takes careful planning, thought and time on the part of the teacher. Poor practicioners do not tend to be good at this. Perhaps you could explain?

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Adrian writes:

I've been out of the UK system for 4 years. I doubt that it in that time there has been much change in the amount or intensity of testing.

I left secondary school teaching in 1971, transferring to higher education, where I stayed put until 1993. There have been a LOT of changes since 1971.

When I left secondary education in 1971 there were only TWO external examinations that I had to contend with, the O-Level examination and the A-Level examination. There was no National Curriculum and there were no SATS. It was assumed that as professionally trained teachers we knew our subject area and what we should be teaching and testing. There were no bureaucrats breathing down our necks. The government basically took a hands-off approach. The introduction of the National Curriculum and all its accompanying controls in 1988 did nothing to improve standards in my subject area, modern foreign languages. In fact, it was accompanied by a general decline in standards which was obvious to me as a higher education lecturer when I interviewed prospective students of German - in German, of course. Some of them could hardly put a sentence together. Eventually the language departments at my university had to close due to a shortage of suitably qualified new entrants.

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Maggie

I have seen too many examples of the abuse of the internal self-assessment system for me to have any confidence in the validity of the grades it produces. That's what I mean by "soft assessment". I'll repeat, I know the examination system is far from perfect, but external, independent assessment is objective and scientific. That's "hard assessment".

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Graham

Just because successive governments have screwed up, doesn't make an examination system itself, invalid. Just because the implementation of the National Curriculum is badly done, doesn't make the concept of national standards a bad idea.

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external, independent assessment is objective and scientific. That's "hard assessment".

Of course it isn't!

Have you looked at the "bourgeois whimsy" which is the style of SATs English papers?

"Write a humorous story about a villain"

This is inaccessible to a working class child to whom a "villain" might just be someone they know who could break their legs :blink:

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Adrian writes:

Just because successive governments have screwed up, doesn't make an examination system itself, invalid. Just because the implementation of the National Curriculum is badly done, doesn't make the concept of national standards a bad idea.

I didn't say that national standards were a bad idea, but I have more faith in international standards in my subject area, modern foreign languages. I have often mentioned the Common European Framework (CEF) for Languages. Our EU partners tend to relate their national exams to the CEF yardstick - and some of them have done so for a long time (research on which the CEF was founded goes back many years). We are only just beginning to relate our national exams to the CEF, although exam boards that offer qualifications in ESOL, e.g. Cambridge, took note of the CEF a long time ago - because they are examining people whose qualifications need to be understood all over the world. For language tests that are tied in closely with the CEF levels and which have been designed by an international team see the Dialang project at http://www.dialang.org

The problem with our National Curriculum is that it is far too prescriptive. Most of our EU partners have national curricula that are more in the nature of guidelines - and they are more likely to treat teachers as professionals, capable of using the own initiative.

John Simkin has raised this issue elsewhere in the Forum, namely how the UK compares with other countries concerning the use of SATs. According to a series of studies conducted by Joanna Le Métais et al. for the National Foundation for Educational Research, it appears that only four countries have compulsory SATs: England, Australia, Canada, Singapore. Only the UK employs league tables to present this information to the public. See:

http://www.nfer.ac.uk/

http://www.nfer.ac.uk/research/project_sumtemp.asp?theID=eir

The research appears to indicate that there is no link between national testing and educational performance.

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Guest Adrian Dingle

To my comment;

external, independent assessment is objective and scientific. That's "hard assessment".

Andy wrote;

Of course it isn't!

I totally disagree. If the teacher was teaching to the test and had the foresight and skills to prepare the kids for the style of the SAT (no matter how ridiculous you might think it is) then the "working class" would have the same chance as the rest of the population.

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I totally disagree. If the teacher was teaching to the test and had the foresight and skills to prepare the kids for the style of the SAT (no matter how ridiculous you might think it is) then the "working class" would have the same chance as the rest of the population.

And presumbably said teacher would have the time and equipment to undo a life times cultural and linguistic socialisation at the same time.

I never knew "teaching to the test" was such a grandiose educational aim :blink:

The research appears to indicate that there is no link between national testing and educational performance.

This I find more believable.

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