Sunday, 3 January 2016

What does testing achieve?

Today, this post about new plans unveiled by education secretary Nicky Morgan has flashed up in my timeline; in short, she has decided we should test every 11 year old on their 12 times tables.
Free times tables printable for you... do you know yours?!
It's difficult to put into words how frustrated I am with all these new tests that 'they' keep coming out with. To me it feels like further discrimination against those children who are not particularly suited to tests. That includes children who are not capable at learning at the same rate as the masses, those who are classed as having a learning disability. It also includes children who do actually know the answers, but who, due to high anxiety, are not capable of regurgitating them under exam/test conditions.

Our youngest girl is autistic. She is not classed as having a learning disability; in fact in certain areas she can outperform her peers in terms of knowledge. Our reports from Great Ormond Street clearly state that she has superior perceptual reasoning skills; she would be in the top 6% of children her age for that. Her language memory score placed her in the top 12% of typically developing children of her age where English is their only language. Her verbal comprehension is average, but her working memory, processing speed and executive functioning are all low. Maths is one of her stronger subjects as it happens but it's unlikely she would ever recall a times table parrot fashion for anyone. She doesn't learn that way.

Autism is a disability. Our girl may not have a learning disability in terms of her overall intelligence, but she certainly does have a disability when it comes to accessing the learning. We are considering secondary schools classed as MLD (for moderate learning disabilities) because the sheer size and conformity aspect of mainstream secondaries will be a huge barrier for her (I go into more detail about this in my post about schooling for high-functioning autism).

She is unable to sit and concentrate on written work for any length of time; certainly not under exam conditions. At the end of her infant education, the staff took her separately for verbal testing and tried various ways to discover what she knew (one of these was chiming a bell as she answered maths questions!). Thanks to the removal of the coursework aspects from most subjects, we are guessing that our girl is now unlikely to gain any GCSE qualifications. That doesn't make her 'stupid', far from it. Her talents should be recognised and built upon just as they should for any child.

So who are all these tests for? Are they really for the teachers, to ensure that the strict curriculum is being taught in school? Or are they to ensure only survival of the fittest? How much talent is being missed out with this narrow-minded attitude?

It's true that some exceptional people find their way to the top despite not being good at traditional school life; common examples are Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, but how about others such as Sean Connery, Simon Cowell and Sir Alan Sugar? There must be many more who have been beaten into submission before realising their true potential. The unnecessary pressure will no doubt have caused mental health problems for some - and plenty of money will have been spent treating those people and trying to fix a problem caused by the introduction of more and more ridiculous tests. Where will it all end?

Maybe what this country needs is more teachers who are allowed to follow their passion for teaching; those who want to develop each child to their full potential and help create well-rounded individuals rather than only concentrate on the academic achievers. We don't all need to know our 12 times tables. I'm guessing there are plenty of app developers who don't, and where would we be these days without all the apps we now use on our phones and tablets (which incidentally, can also be used as calculators)?!

All these tests seem to achieve is a tidal wave of teachers who no longer want to be involved in educating in such a prescriptive way. Their passion is squashed and instead of being allowed to inspire and lead, they are forced to prepare all children for the same limited testing which tells us little about their abilities. I'm wondering if there are increasing numbers of children being educated at home, and whether those figures are being recorded and analysed by one of these maths geniuses.

I've not heard anyone in favour of these tests yet. Is it time to start thinking outside the box?