The Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) – the biggest teaching union in the Scotland have issued a number of press releases over the holiday period.
The last of these was entitled League Table approach and too much Testing remains Harmful to Education, say EIS
“The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has called for a radical rethink on the over-use of testing in schools and the damaging construction of ‘league tables’ with the data collected. The EIS believes that too many local authorities continue to place too much emphasis on narrow testing and the collation of associated data which brings little or no benefit to schools, teachers and pupils.
Commenting, EIS General Secretary Ronnie Smith said,
“Despite the end of National Tests some five years ago, many authorities seem unable to cure their addiction to excessive testing in schools and continue to favour the flawed ‘league-table’ approach to measuring school success. This is in direct contradiction to current national educational priorities and has a negative impact on learning and teaching in schools. The use of such widespread testing places additional pressure on pupils and teachers to perform well in these tests – this has the inevitable result of narrowing the scope for teachers to use their professional judgement in what they teach, with considerable pressure to ‘teach to the test’ to avoid criticism of the school when league tables are constructed. This tick-box approach to measuring school success is of little value, and serves only to provide figures for education authority statisticians to crunch while simultaneously demoralising pupils and teachers.”
I found this an interesting perspective, particularly given the direction we are taking in respect to outcome agreements. Certainly from an East Lothian point of view we have never presented school assessment data in a league table format – and I can’t think of any other authority which adopts such a “league-table” approach.
I agree with Ronnie when he warns of the danger of solely focusing upon attainment as the only means of judging the success of a school but the new HGIOS3 makes it clear that pupil achievement is just as important.
However, I have to challenge his assertion that testing and the collation of associated data brings little or no benefit to schools, teachers and pupils. Firstly, schools need to have some way of judging their progress against an external benchmark. Testing provides that benchmark. I recently wrote about the “King o’ the midden” complex whereby it’s possible for a school, an authority, and even a country to delude itself about it’s progress, unless it collected data, compared itself with its peers, and then interpreted how that that information can be used to shape its practice. For example, from the PIRLS data it is apparent that children’s reading in Scotland is not making the same rate of progress as in other countries. Such knowledge initiates a question about how we currently teach reading and might have a direct impact upon schools, teachers and pupils.
A school can only objectively reflect upon how children are making progress throughout their school careers if they have access to valid and reliable summative test data. At an authority level such data helps to provide a means of judging a school’s performance in a particular area. For example, if a school’s attainment in maths is significantly below maths attainment in neighbouring schools, of a similar pupil composition, then it is legitimate to ask questions about the teaching of maths in that school. Once again summative data leads directly back to the learning and teaching process.
I actually think the key point which Ronnie Smith is making is about how such data is used and the culture which underpins its collection, interpretation and use. My hope is that the culture we aspire to in East Lothian actually helps us to collect and use summative data where our ultimate focus is always upon the learning and teaching process, where formative assesment plays a crucial part. The trick will be to ensure that such a balance is always achieved.
Last thought, Ronnie Smith refers to the needs of schools, teachers and pupils, but makes no mention of parents…..mmm?