A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Teaching to the Test: not just for Americans any more

Sound familiar? Our cousins Across the Pond have high-stakes test woes of their own:
Schools are paying more than £200 for information to help pupils cheat the exam system, it is claimed.

They are sending teachers on courses led by examiners where they are given tips to beat GCSEs and A-levels.

Teachers are encouraged to use tricks, such as inflating weak pupils' coursework grades. The claims are made in a book which suggests a culture of cheating and "teaching to the test" in the education system. Some schools allow children to retake exams until they pass.

The claims risk undermining the year-on-year rise in GCSE and A-level results achieved under Labour. Since 1997, the number of children with at least five good GCSEs has increased from 45 to 59 per cent, while the A-level pass rate has risen from 87 to 96 per cent. Last August's A-level increase was the 24th successive annual rise.

Last night, teachers' leaders said schools were being driven to extreme lengths to inflate their position on government league tables and satisfy the demands of Ofsted, the education watchdog. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "We have been living in a world of high-stakes exams since the early 90s and every year it gets worse and worse. It is a pressure schools should not be put under because it creates an atmosphere where teachers are encouraged to teach to the test rather than educating children."

Well, it was only a matter of time.



At 4/21/07, 10:03 PM, Anonymous kontan said...

Our SATP- subject area testing program- starts next week. I think back over the previous weeks and it is irritating how much focus is placed on these tests! I just want to TEACH. THAT is what I signed up for. This test will disrupt a solid week of teaching.

At 4/22/07, 8:55 AM, Blogger M-Dawg said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/22/07, 8:56 AM, Blogger M-Dawg said...

We have MCAS here in MA. Teaching to a test is what I've dreaded my entire teaching career.

MCAS testing takes away at least two weeks in March and May from our curriculum. Not to mention a week of Terra Nova testing for the Freshman.

For those two weeks of MCAS testing, my school has a three hour delay for everyone NOT taking the MCAS. The 10th graders come in at "normal business hours" - 7:24 AM.

Unfortunately, teaching to a test is here to stay. Thanks NCLB. Ughy! :-(

At 4/22/07, 2:37 PM, Blogger Ruth said...

Of course, this is nothing new for the British system. It has always been very exam-oriented. But the tests themselves are quite different from the ones in the US, at least in my experience of American standardized tests and British standardized tests. American ones are mostly about filling in bubbles, though I believe now there are writing components to many of them (I don't teach in the US). British ones include writing lots of essays, drawing sketch maps, answering very complex short-answer questions. The language exams have a speaking component with an examiner who comes to the school and a listening paper (perhaps two, can't remember). Chemistry and biology have a practical paper, where you do experiments under exam conditions. When I took my GCSEs back in 1984, our exams took place over two weeks.

As for teaching to the test, that's what the curriculum is in high school - working for your GCSEs.

One thing that has changed since I was in high school is the addition of course work. It was intended to take some of the emphasis away from testing, but from what I read it hasn't quite worked that way.

Personally I liked the British system because I "test well." It is very high-pressure, however.

I haven't lived in England in many years and so my comments may be totally out of date now.

At 4/22/07, 3:59 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

Our district uses a computer drill and kill program, that is made by the same company that writes the TAKS test. Legal, but I have a problem with the ethics.

At 4/23/07, 6:25 PM, Blogger EliRabett said...

The private schools in England pride themselves on their GSCE and A level prep courses. The fancier ones specialize in the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams to the extent that the Oxford college I spent a sabbatical at discounts scores and interviews of students who attend the Etons, and this was back in the 80s


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