The Treehorn Express
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The Treehorn Express Theme song: ‘Care for Kids’
The Morality of Blanket Testing
It was a long time ago. I was giving a blanket Maths test to a double-group of about sixty children, the results of which were to appear on the school’s Report Card to parents. When I had finished my questioning of one section of the test, I noticed one pupil crying. She had not done well, disgusted with her score. I knew jolly well that she was far better at Mathematics than her score indicated. What had I done? My stupid fixation on full-scale testing as a judgement of ability [and, maybe, a cause of angst at home] was inaccurate, unfair, mindless and immoral….a really stupid pastime that I had been committed to, for years. I knew the little girl well enough to know that she would become a brilliant student [which she did]. Here I was threatening her dedication to Mathematics and describing her to her parents in numerals on a piece of paper. I had no right to treat a living person in the way that I was treating her and her class-mates. It was cold, cruel and nasty. I was mortified that I had caused such pain to a young child. I needed to think about what I was doing.
It was an aperient moment. I felt, as a consequence of this, that I had to consider very seriously my obligations as a teacher and cleanse my system of all the garbage that it had mindlessly accumulated. Talk about volte face! I never, ever gave another set test of anything, not even in the five year period when I inspected schools and was obliged to appraise every primary teacher in Queensland’s North West and some secondary teachers as well. That damaging little Maths test to a Year 3 class was the last paper-and-pencil test that I ever gave. God bless that little girl. I figured that if a teacher did not know how well their pupils were doing, he or she should quit; and if I couldn’t distinguish a good learning environment from a poor one, as a principal and as an administrator I, too, was in the wrong job. As a principal teacher, I needed to be in the classrooms as a curriculum leader as much as I could and not find time-wasting tests to hide behind. I needed to learn from the pupils in particular. I needed to understand more about the profession of primary teaching and its leadership; and what made it so different from other mainstream teaching/learning situations. If I didn’t, I would become just a time-server in a good job, following some one else’s directions dutifully, speaking of things that I hadn’t thought carefully about and, thereby, missing all the wonder and joy of the profession of primary schooling.
I needed to talk to my pupils as often as possible about how they were learning, about their idiosyncratic ways of doing things so that they could do better….not allow them to be the victims of the cold, artificial, invalid, unreliable and soul destroying methods that I had previously used. State-wide blanket testing maintains the pretence that it knows what pupils need, that it assesses progress or is diagnostic or provides reliable information about a particular school group. Such a belief comes from the Wica texts and is not consistent with any solid humane beliefs about teaching and learning; nor from research. Maintaining that it does, and by not publishing widely the right of parents to opt-out of testing, places NAPLAN close to the top shelf in the dirty-tricks department.
My experience with my little Year 3 disposed me to think about shared evaluation. I have seen many teachers use really thoughtful ways of motivating children as part of the learning process itself; and of informing parents in ways that show that a close three-way partnership is the only fair-dinkum way to go. Our federal and state governments should be concentrating on productive styles of evaluation if they are keen on assessment, transparency and accountability and all of those other excuses they use to be unkind to kids. Put the kids in the middle, you unthinking politicians! Pupils know how well they are doing and, while the task of the teacher is to refine the wherewithal for them to do better, all pupils want to share their progress with someone they respect. ‘Trust teachers’ should be the government’s major platform. Recognise, help and encourage their achievements. Provide them with suitable resources and encourage them to talk to others about the teaching act; and Australia will have the best system in the world. Believe in their professional ethics and they will too. [Finland does. Why can’t we?] What does Australia have?… a pale imitation of a broken-down, fear based, big-city brain-child of an ambitious New York lawyer. Those teachers who have thought about their profession, have read widely from the never-ending range of offerings and share the pride that true-blue professionalism can bring, will tell you of the effects of blanket testing notions on learning; and of the silly manipulations that are required to cope with NAPLAN. It is not a pretty story.
Above all, we need to think of the morality of imposing on children, unreliable devices that hurt. The commands from politicians and measurement-fixated departmental superordinates are pure totalitarianism in action. State ministers, departmental officers, principals and teachers must do as they are told! NAPLAN rules! As servants of GERM, they must Reform! Unfortunate cogs. The knowledge of those immersed in the reality-based profession of teaching is ignored. There are too many children presently distressed from having to contest NAPLAN who want to pull out, but they need a few of the mothers of their friends to join their mother in opting-out. They know that the tediousness of practice books and practising session replacing other subjects is not fun nor related to learning anything useful. It is the height of immorality to treat children in this manner, just because they are institutionalised by law and can be ‘used’ for political purposes.
There are so many. The two latest…
[From Allan] :
Aussie Principal, Brian Chudleigh, says that saturation testing is seriously undermining the quality of primary school education.and should be stopped immediately……..
‘Survey: Teachers Place Little Value on Standardized Tests.’
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