How important is it, if it can’t be tested?

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This week, all across Australia, students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 took part in the National Assessment Program NAPLAN.

In previous posts I have questioned the purpose of this type of assessment, the importance placed upon the results, and the undue stress caused to students, teachers and families. You can read some of my thoughts here, here and here for starters.

Of course I am not the only one questioning, and Australia is not the only country in which nation-wide testing is set, and questioned. The tests are no more popular in the US with many students opting out. Diane Ravitch does much to raise awareness of the issues on her blog. Concerns are also raised in the UK, and no doubt elsewhere.

However sometimes something good can arise where it is least expected. Out of the melee of the testing environment this week came a wonderful letter written to students by teachers who know that there is more to each one than the score on a test. A parent of one of the students posted the letter on Facebook and it went viral. The story was picked up by a variety of media outlets.

I congratulate the teachers for writing and distributing the letter. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Check it out on Facebook here, or read some of the media reports:

ABC Brisbane

Daily Mail UK

The Independent UK

A similar letter went viral in the UK last year, and according the ABC article, the letter was based on one written to students in the US a number of years ago. I don’t think the message can be repeated often enough.

Maybe it is one thing to tell the students, but how do we get the policy makers first to listen and then to act?

Perhaps they should have a listen to the discussion by Tim and Debbie, one of my favourite pieces from the 80’s.

Actually, in relation to the letter, I was looking for one of my favourite quotes by Tim but sadly couldn’t find it. He says, “My thoughts exactly. I would have said it if I’d thought of it!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

14 thoughts on “How important is it, if it can’t be tested?

  1. Annecdotist

    May I add a slightly dissenting voice here? There’s something a little uncomfortable for me in both versions of this letter in that they’re ‘using’ a letter ostensibly addressed to children in order to attempt to communicate to higher powers. I think it speaks strongly of the teachers’ sense of powerlessness in being prevented from valuing their whole repertoire of skills (not just those of the children, but of the teachers themselves). In an ideal world, wouldn’t it be good if the teachers could employ the test in a matter-of-fact way alongside other more qualitative assessments with neither teachers nor students needing to get anxious about it? I’m not a teacher, nor a parent of young children, so I might be speaking (writing?) out of turn, but isn’t it not that the tests themselves are helpful but the way they are used?

    Liked by 2 people

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your dissenting voice, Anne. It is very welcome. Actually, although I wrote that I couldn’t have said it better myself, I do have a few misgivings about the letter, particularly with regard to discussions that we have had previously about praise and observations and suggestions that have been put forward by others including Grosz, Dweck and Willingham. I had thought to quote from the letter in the post but wasn’t really sure about taking any of it out of context. I quite liked the tone of the letter and what it was aiming to do, but I thought the finer details and wording could do with some work e.g. I wondered about the use of the word ‘exceptional’; and the indication that everyone was performing well in all the areas listed whether they were or not. False praise perhaps?
      I did see the letter as written with the children as the main audience but I may be wrong there and it may have been intended to communicate to those “higher powers” as you suggest. It definitely expressed frustration with the impositions of the testing regime.
      I like your suggestion for using a variety of assessment tools, including qualitative assessment, but am afraid that there is as much “wrong” with the tests themselves as there is with the way they are administered and how the data used, or mostly mis-used.

      Liked by 2 people

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        The letter has been making the rounds which takes some of the beauty away. That said, someone took the time to copy and tweak the letter which is nice. I do agree with Anne, though, and with your statement that “It definitely expressed frustration with the impositions of the testing regime.” I think one of the main reasons these letters are going out is because of that frustration. Like Anne said, they seem to be using the letter to express that. I really do feel badly for the teachers who have to teach to tests and for the kids who have to take them. (Though my son is completely fine taking these, I know others students aren’t.)

        Liked by 2 people

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        1. Norah Post author

          I am pleased for you and your son that he is happy to take the tests and that they don’t cause either of you stress. For now. What the long term effect of that willingness and compliance will be remains to be seen. I trust in your judgment as a parent to always ensure that he receives the guidance and support required to navigate the treacherous waters between too much and too little compliance. He is fortunate to have such a perceptive parent, one who participates so actively in his education and development, leaving nothing to chance. Thanks for sharing your comment. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
          1. Sarah Brentyn

            Haha! I said he was fine taking them, I didn’t say I don’t teach him at home. 😉 He forgets a lot of what is forced on him for these tests. It’s like those weekly spelling tests:
            “I got a 100!”
            “Good for you. How do you spell ‘thought’?”
            “I don’t know.”
            Awesome.
            He studied it in class for the whole week. He did it for homework all week. He got a decent (sometimes great) grade on the test at the end of that week. Then he can’t spell it a week later. Stellar. O_o

            Liked by 2 people

            Reply
            1. Norah Post author

              I think you’ve nailed one of the major limitations of placing too much emphasis on testing. Did you do a word count on what you wrote? Sounds like a mighty fine flash fiction!

              Liked by 1 person

              Reply
      2. Annecdotist

        Good point, Norah. I haven’t seen these actually tests but I can appreciate that such things are sometimes badly designed on top of all the other frustrations. Sometimes the fetish for measuring trumps developing robust tests to measure with.

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
  2. TanGental

    that is such a lovely sentiment and it should be standard. Or rather it shouldn’t be needed because there wouldn’t be these early years testing which I fear pigeonholes children far too young.

    Liked by 1 person

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