Magazine article Public Finance

Testing, Testing. .

Magazine article Public Finance

Testing, Testing. .

Article excerpt

FBW aspects of education policy since 1997 have been more controversial than the government's approach to testing and assessment. Was a high-stakes testing regime essential to raise standards or has it increased the inequality gap between different schools and their pupils?

Two major international studies have given a new context to the debate in the past two years. First was a 2006 report on the performance of 15-year-olds by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessments. This showed a big fall in the UK's comparative position. Secondly, Unicef's 2007 report on young people's wellbeing placed UK children firmly at the bottom of the OECD league table.

If our national testing regime is so good, why are our children falling behind their peers in other OECD countries? If our children are so unhappy at school, is this related to our unique national system of tests and tables? And do we always have to accept a trade-off between high levels of achievement for the most able and a long tail of under-achievement for the hardest to teach?

All these issues were examined during an investigation into testing and assessment carried out earlier this year by the Commons children, schools and families select committee, which called for a substantial change of direction. We found a lack of clarity over the main purpose of the testing regime and that the validity of using the same test results for multiple purposes was guestionable.

While we accepted the value of some form of national testing, we believed that a light sampling technique was a statistically more valid way of tracking achievement at national level. We were deeply concerned about the evidence (most recently provided by the Ofsted inspectorate) on the extent of 'teaching to the test' and its impact on the broader curriculum.

Above all, we rejected the concept of high-stakes testing in which Sats, GCSE and ?-level results are presented as the main factor in school performance. We called for a new accountability framework built on performance data that reflect a wide range of a school's achievements and not just raw scores.

We recognised the continuing problem of young people who are disaffected from mainstream learning. These are the youngsters most likely to cause low-level disruption in the classroom and antisocial behaviour on the streets, and most at risk of leaving school with few qualifications and chronically low self-esteem.

A major issue, particularly for a government committed to reducing social inequality and increasing social mobility, is to what extent our testing regime - in which almost a quarter of pupils are regularly and very publicly labelled as failures throughout much of their school career - is a major factor in the growing problem of disaffected and alienated youth? …

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