Who tests the testers?

A recurring theme on this blog has been the inappropriateness of, and the difficulty faced by children sitting, large-scale external exams which require an immediate response to a stimulus that may have little relevance or interest to them. I have written about it here and here.

Making a judgment about student progress or achievement from one piece of writing, particularly one completed under conditions not necessarily conducive to encouraging one’s best work, is problematic.

It would be unrealistic of me to expect that everyone would agree with me, (though who wouldn’t want everyone to agree with them?) but it is always affirming to find that others share similar views. Maybe if enough people voice their concerns, change may occur.

Recently I read an article in our local newspaper that had me nodding in agreement. The article NAPLAN writers have trouble writing a writing test by Mary-Rose MacColl explained that a good part of the reason students didn’t do well on the NAPLAN writing task this year, is that the task itself wasn’t well written!

MacColl said that the task was wordy and the standards themselves (the criteria against which the writing is marked) poorly written. She pointed out how ludicrous it was for the ACARA CEO to write a letter explaining to parents that students should not view the test as ‘pass or fail’ when many children were experiencing extreme anxiety in the lead up to the test and parents were withdrawing their children from the tests in increasing numbers.

In addition to writing newspaper columns, MacColl is also a writer of fiction. She is pleased that the focus of NAPLAN is on persuasive rather than narrative writing, and goes on to describe some wonderful writing that is going on her son’s class.

Many teachers are doing wonderful things helping students develop a love of writing. Unfortunately, those setting external assessment tasks aren’t listening to the professionals.

I have given only a brief indication of what Mary-Rose MacColl had to say. Please read her article to fully understand her views.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

11 thoughts on “Who tests the testers?

  1. teachermumwife

    Completely agree. In all honesty looking at the year 7 naplan test this year, I wouldn’t bet any big money that I could pass it in its entirety as an adult. I believe the naplan is a necessary ‘national’ measure of estimated achievement-But… As with any assessment, should not be used in isolation but just one piece of the performance puzzle. I think the media attention placed on this test is where things have gone astray- the hype falsely leads parents into believing this test is the sole indicator of achievement rather than one minor piece of the performance pie. I also laugh at the point about ‘narratives’. Whilst essential for teaching and understanding language / grammar conventions I always questions why we as teachers ‘flog it’ to death. Unless the student goes on to become an author… They will rarely ever write another single narrative in their lives.
    I am really enjoying your content!!!! Glad I found your blog:)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for the generosity of your support. I agree with you that the media gets carried away at times and likes to whip up a bit of hysteria in parents. It is so true what you say about writing narratives too, but I do think it is good to develop an idea of story. Hopefully most will be readers if not writers, and it also helps when telling the narratives of one’s own life. I also am pleased I found your blog.

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  2. Bec

    Thanks Nor, a great article. It certainly does sound to be a perverse system that has ‘got away with itself’ where testing has become an institution in its own right, detached from the learning outcomes of students. “Why do we test? Because we must!”. I wonder if there are other ways, and I would love to know your thoughts along those lines.

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  3. Cultivating Questioners

    Thank you for this post! I just finished administering a mandated series of “writing pre-assessments” where I had to give my students a prompt (informative, persuasive, or narrative) and ask them to write for 45 minutes and turn in a “polished” piece of writing. It was an infuriating experience, because it is so disconnected from the real-world. Never in my life (except on a standardized test) have I been given something to write about and told to turn in a finalized piece of writing within 45 minutes. I really feel I could have done something much more productive with those 2 hours that I lost to give these tests.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I can’t imagine turning in a polished piece of writing in 45 minutes. What a ridiculously unrealistic expectation. It would have been much better had you been given the professional freedom to implement appropriate instruction. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. TanGental

    She writes a lot of sense. I fail to see how you can meaningfully test children so young without significant moderation from the teacher that knows the child best. I understand the central authority’s concern for objectivity in judging numeracy and literacy (and that allowing teachers to be the sole judges means bad teaching can be hidden to an extent) but put a child into a test of any kind where the results are public and parents want to know the answer which means competition is fostered. I don’t have an answer other than thinking this cannot be done by using one matrix alone. Especially if the standard of the test is woeful.

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  5. francisguenette

    Testing – egad – what a topic! I believe that far more weight should be given to the ongoing assessment that a classroom teacher carries out over the course of a school year. Not to say that National Testing doesn’t have a role (all to often misused – unfortunately). We won’t see the end of this debate anytime soon.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Francis, Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about the effectiveness and value of a classroom teacher’s ongoing assessment; also that the issue won’t be resolved for a long time. There will be a lot of distress for students and teachers in the meantime.

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