2. Testing

QQs gathered during the study of minimal competency testing in the US – 1980

‘Let me not mince words. Almost all educators feel that testing is a necessary part of education…….at best, testing hinders, distorts and corrupts the learning process…… Our chief concern should not be to improve testing, but to find ways to eliminate it.’     [John Holt..The Underachieving School P.57 in 1970]

Methods of inquiry are more durable than facts and even generalisations. Knowing is a process, not a product. [Bruner]

Blanket testing underscores a bottom line mentality that considers only those things that can be tested represent essentials of learning.

Wobegong Effect … Lake Wobegong is a mythical school district where every child is above average.

Does achievement mean achievement by comparison with someone else?…or within one’s own framework?

Curriculum backwash is a certainty, for testing has a dumbing-down effect on instruction. Teachers are very likely to shape their instruction to match a test’s specific focus.

The ultimate blanket testing should involve brain-scans [Murray Bladwell]

Testing leads to celibacy of the intellect.

Learning preceded assessment by 3 million years.

I can only assess a person’s intellectual performance for myself.  For me to do it for someone else’s information is immoral.

Schools are institutions for learning…..not assembly-line testing factories.

Should not-so-easy -to-test aspects of education be considered ? For example, Harold Boles lists social issues that could concern high schools…..[in alphabetical order !] :Abortion, aggression, birth control, communication, compulsory school attendance, conservation, consumerism, crime, discipline, drug abuse, ecology, economic policy, equalization of opportunity, euthanasia, family customs, farm prices, foreign relations, government controls, heterosexuality and homosexuality, housing, inflation, intelligence factors, justice under the law, knowledge explosion, land use, law and order, marriage and divorce, media use and abuse, minorities treatment, open housing, penal reform, political ethics, pollution, pornography & obscenity, poverty, power differentials, privacy of individuals, quality of products, quotas, racial integration, religious training, respect for others, separation of church and state, sex discrimination, sexual mores, social responsibility, terrorism, urbanisation, vandalism, venereal disease control, violence, welfare, xenophobia, youthful rebellion and zoning.

‘I favour competence. I prefer classrooms where teachers know where they’re aiming. Sloth is as unattractive to me in children as much as it is in adults. Bad writing stinks; it’s as ugly as litter. And bad arithmetic is pathetic, and sometimes unfair, and occasionally even dangerous.

But I don’t like the testing movement. It’s bad psychology; it’s bad measurement; it’s bad thinking.  It threatens to subjugate what’s easily measured to what isn’t. It’s rooted in the fiction that we know what skills in schools insure success in life.’   [Gene Glass]

‘Testing is about politics. Some insist that it is technically necessary. Such people lack imagination about how to teach and  to run schools.

It has to do with fixing blame.  It has to do with parent anger and children’s guilt.  It violates due process.  It violates good sense.

It serves the best interests of a growing body of middlemen and it serves the centralists’ ambitions of politicians and bureaucrats.

[A middleman is someone who works in education but never teaches anything to a pupil. He is between the public who buys the instruction for children and the teachers who deliver it. He is an administrator (of the customary type), a curriculum specialist, a school psychologist, a guidance counsellor, a test producer, a home-packaged dealer in tutorials.]

Legislators and bureaucrats scheme to achieve greater control over what is taught by whom and to whom. Their motives are partly egotistical, and some intentions are honourable. However, their actions are not to be judged by their intentions but by their consequences, which are uniformly bad.’  [Gene Glass]

Grades ain’t cool; learnin’s cool.         [Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli aka The Fonz, Happy Days.]

During April-May 1980, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study in a deliberate way,  the effects of heavy testing programs on schooling. In USA the movement was called the Minimal Competency Movement. Many states and school districts had legalised levels of achievement for graduates from the school system. For instance, a close and special friend who was the Superintendent of a school district in California, resigned because his School Board, composed of scientists from a Weapons Research facility, had demanded that no ‘student’ [as Americans call pupils at school] would receive a graduation certificate without having passed a test in calculus.

I visited school districts and notable educators who had been making strong statements about the effects of such testing. In the long term the movement had a disastrous effect on schooling in the US.

I was able to follow up with a visit to the Assessment of Performance Unit [APU] in Britain where testing of Mathematics, Language and Science was undertaken in a random selection of schools around Britain. The way in which the tests were constructed was detailed and very interesting. A real effort was made to soften the application of the tests and to try to minimise the paper and pencil approach. It did not work either and a few million pounds were wasted. Schools and LEAs went mad on testing programs.  At the stage that I visited all three operating centres, there was a concern for results because it was, simply, too difficult to make any sort of judgement about achievements in schools on such a broad scale.