The cat and orange juice incident, scared schools and more. In this episode Andy, Emily and Adam discuss the impact that testing has on children, teachers and schools. Do we gauge a child's success on tests? Is testing even needed? Plus, the importance of teaching to the five core competencies.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the School of School Podcast.
Welcome to the session and this podcast and a word that I think prompts emotion in all sorts of different directions and that's testing. So we are currently in the middle of a pandemic. We hear the word test almost nightly, we gauge government success by tests, so we also gauge a child's success by tests as a testing that we need in order to give the value of a child. Anyway, plenty to talk about no doubt. Andy, what are your thoughts?
All right. I'm going to be controversial right off the start. I'm going to say, and hopefully I have an opportunity to explain what I mean by this. At some point, I think we should get kids more tests. I think we should be testing kids all the time.
That's truth. That's a huge call. I can almost feel people throwing things at whatever device they're listening through. They'll be swearing, shouting, go on, explain yourself.
So first off, you have to test, right? But what do we mean by test? I'm really meaning assess, right? So we need to be assessing kids all the time. And some of that needs to be formal, it needs to be statutory, standardized testing that has benchmarks and all kinds of stuff. And there's lots of reasons to do testing. Part of it is to measure whether or not kids are learning, right? That's part of it, but also we need those. We need a lot of those formal tests to measure whether or not the education system is working. And whether or not teachers are doing a good job and whether or not schools are doing a good job. And I know people don't want to hear that, and they want to say, trust the teacher, but we can't there's we can't leave all these things to chance.
We need to have those metrics in order to measure and come back and say, "Okay, yes, this is working or it's not working." That's a responsible thing to do, right? You need to measure the things that matter, you have to, right? Because then you can't tell whether or not it's working, okay? That doesn't mean that we have to make it high stakes, it doesn't mean that we have to make it stressful, but it means that we have to have a system in place to gather those metrics so we can decide whether or not what we're trying to do is actually giving the desired outcome. I think it's important.
So, can I ask a question? Can I jump in to ask question? I know you... So why is it then? Because what you've said makes sense, right? You want to know if the job's been done well, it makes complete sense whether we're making progress, which would validate and approach all of those things. Why does testing get such a bad rep? Why do people get so emotional about testing children?
Yeah, because I think people see testing or assessment as a stake, right? And all too often, the stake isn't being used to measure, right? It's being used to beat the people that haven't accomplished, whatever it is you want it to accomplish. So it's a tool that needs to be used responsibly. That's part of the reason, right? So, I think schools are scared of tests because it might highlight some things and it may come down as pressure to the that's part of the reason, right? And the other reason of course is the wellbeing of the children, right? Because if you make testing a stressful performance based measurement system then you're lining everybody up and you're saying, "Okay, this is the rank. These are the kids that did really well and these are the kids that did really poorly shame on them." And that gives testing a bad name but it doesn't have to be like that, right?
Where a kid isn't rank in the class, is not important to anybody. Certainly not to that kid, right? So that's... But we become obsessed with that. Even when we were building insights, it was always a wrestling match to go back and remind everybody that we're not building a ranking system here, right? It's not about saying which kids are the cleverest and which are not. That's not what this is all about. It's about analytics, right? So let me turn it around a little bit for you. So if you can think of testing as like an MRI machine for a doctor, right? And if keeping in mind that the doctor's job is to try to improve your health, right? Are you going to say, you're going to take that machine away from him because it's going to rank the health of that person? Would you take it away? You say you can't use that MRI machine because morally it's wrong because what you're pointing out to that person is that they're not as health is the next person. Is there any sense In that?
No, there's not. I suppose the thing isn't, it touches on what you've talked about is ensuring that the MRI machine is correct and accurate and doesn't do harm. And so-
That's the responsibility.
Yeah, yeah, totally, totally. Yeah, but of course, I don't think anyone would argue as long as that's working efficiently, then it's good for your health all around.
I'm thinking about this in terms of the skill of people to be able to interpret the results and to make informed decisions occasionally. So, I've seen examples of testing or assessment done really well and managed really well, and I've spoken to my mother about this before, because she used to be head of math. She's retired now, but she would talk about the importance of also when you are using this information, a skilled professional teacher should also be bringing awareness and judgment to the situation as well. You should always be doing that because you need to be clear. Has the environment been set up correctly for this assessment? There is key bits of information I think that can sometimes be missing and I've seen people using assessment because, Andy said, good assessments. And I think that this is important.
I've seen things where people think that they're assessing reading, but they're assessing fluency. That doesn't mean that the child is comprehending. And I think that all of these things are so important. I've even seen an example of somebody doing an assessment with a child and the child put across on a piece of paper, it was like there was a sentence and then you had to based on a sentence put across of where the cat was and an image. It was for very young children and there were various different options for this child to mark make on the page to put where the thing was. And there was this real concern that this child had... There was all sorts of stuff going on.
They've got a language processing disorder, and there was all sorts of theories as to why this child was putting these crosses in all these places that wasn't linking to what was being said and the teacher had read the sentence, so it was like super clear. Anyway, I think this is unusual, but this one really made me laugh and made me think the worst of assessment. Nobody spoke to the child after this assessment, everyone started analyzing, "Oh! Language processing disorder," this is... Anyway, when they did it down with a child, it was hilarious because this kid's imagination was quite special. So they were like, "Yeah, so then the door opened and the orange juice hit the thing and then this happened and the cat like jumped up and then after that happened, and so I put the cross there because that was when the cat was..."
So, if someone had spoken to the kid and said, "Why'd you do it," you'd be laughing because probably that kid's seriously bright, but was off on a imaginary trip. So, I just think sometimes we need to be really careful about, as my mom says, conditions like what are you trying to test and how that information is then being used and having professional knowledge. So for me, I think assessment is... I'm really for it, I think it's super important. I'm with Andy on this, but I also think there's a whole load of baggage around it that needs to be understood and why we're doing it and how these things are being utilized. I think it's really important.
Sure, what about you Adam? What are your thoughts?
The most influential event that changed my teaching I was taught by a lady, Lynn Tozo was her name, she went to the University of Otago, New Zealand. And there was an assessment schedule for a diagnostic interview. And as a newly qualified teacher, in fact, I may have even still been training at the time. It gave me an understanding of mathematics that I think I could have worked in the classroom for 10 years and I wouldn't have understood it because of the way the assessment was structured. And because I understood what was being assessed for each of those questions. So very well written and explained to me. And I think the challenges is that when we talk about testing in schools, most often what most people immediately equate that with the statutory sets you or GCSEs or those national tests. Then I think it's difficult because where's the quality assurance for the assessments that are being used in schools?
Because I knew as a head teacher, it was very difficult for me to... I had a budget to buy assessments and how did I decide if something was very well written? Now, I'm in a fortunate position now more than ever, because I've talked to a lot of people. I've talked to people who have been involved in Maths — No Problem!! I've talked to many, many people that have explained the thinking behind single questions. Now what a privilege that is for me is an educator because that helps me ask the questions, the formative assessment as you said, the teaching between the desks. But I think that we probably need to become more sophisticated and I think that there should be more stringent tests applied to the tests that we use because I think that if due diligence is not done on those, then we're not only missing a trick for the children but also for educators that my experience was as it made me a better teacher therefore it probably ended up helping many, many more children. It was based on an assessment.
So let me ask you this question, what's the point of assessment? Why do we give kids, whether it's formative or summative or high stakes or national or statutory, whatever it is, why do we even bother testing anybody? What are the reasons?
Well, it's so we know how we can guide them to the next steps. So time's not wasted. They get one day, so it's Thursday, the 11th of March. I don't know how many thousands of children around the world have attended school for this one day. It'll be their only day in their current year at this point. They're never going to get it back. So if I'm not prepared to help them on that day, I've missed a day and they don't get it back. I can't as a teacher, I can go, "Oh, that's a bit of a shame." I used to think this if you took books home and you marked them on the couch, I've done this before as a relatively new teacher. "Oh! They didn't get that. Oh! They didn't get that. Oh! They didn't get that."
That's a shame. Now that the boring thing about that is that that was the norm, but for those children, they didn't get the day back. And I didn't have enough information to do my job well enough to help those children. So I think that there's an efficiency aspect to it that if I know where the children are at, and I've got them for 190 days a year, then those 190 days are going to be used better. Those children get a better deal and they will get just... Their life chances will increase. I think that's just a statement of fact. So I just think at the heart of it, it's informing the educators, it's informing schools. We can do so much with good assessment but the winners are the children. And as I said, I think the major motivation for me is they only ever have one day in each year group at a given time in the year. It's you are never going to get it back. And I think that's a pretty strong motivation to get it right.
So you said quite a lot of things there.
So just... Emily, I'm going to give you a chance to jump in. But just, I'm just going to try to summarize, right? Number one it's because it's the children benefit from it.
Right, and that needs to be the number one reason why you're doing testing.
Right. So, buzzword would be assessment for learning, right? Yeah, but also in order to become a better teacher, you need to have that data to tell you whether or not your conjecture about how to teach is actually working. You need... Because it's not, there's lots of opinions. We all have lots of... I think with we should do it this way, blah, blah, blah, blah. But at some point you need to measure that up and say, "Did that actually work or not?" So there's that side of it. And then there's also... And that not only for teachers, but for schools as a whole, right? And then the third one is a responsibility to society to say, "Yes, our education system is working or no, it's not, we need to change." And if you don't have the data to support it, you're merely just dealing with opinions. So there's three pretty good, compelling reasons to be good at testing and to do it in a responsible, efficient manner, right? So I think I'm just trying to summarize what you said. Is that correct?
Yeah, that's it. And the only other thing I'd say in amongst all of that, is if the data's telling me that the progress isn't being made in that right way, maybe I need help to as it is often, it's all about the children that get assessed. But actually if it shows that odd, they've made no progress in this area for a while, maybe that's indicative of the fact that I need help to get better. Of course, all of us can get better, right? So, that I think is a really, really valuable tool as well if it's used in that way. Everyone wins them.
That summarized everything that Adam said and I'm totally in agreement. It just made me think that I often hear, and Adam you can tell me whether this is one of those rumor things, but if you... People talk about teaching to the test and I guess that's where we often get a lot of criticism, where there are assessments. So if we think about SATs and that a lot of time is spent teaching to the test rather than teaching core skills so that when you're doing the assessment, it's giving an overarching picture that children are having knowledge and other in a richer knowledge area and curriculum. I don't know what you think about that, Adam whether-
Well, I had my head turned by Ban Har on this. It's something that I'd never... Because I bought into it as a teacher. I bought in wholesale teaching to the test is a terrible thing. It limits the curriculum, it dah, dah, dah. But, I remember I was listening to Ban Har talk and I could be wrong in this, right? But I think if my interpretation was wrong, I think it's still valid. So I'm going to carry on regardless. But honestly, I'm not saying Ban Har said, this is a massive, but I think the point that I got from it was is that if the test encourages the type of thinking that we want, then teaching to the test encourages the type of teaching and learning that we give. So if the test is wrong, and it's all about memorization of facts and memorization of formulas, then yeah if you teach to the test then, we are limiting the children. If the test is the right one, then you've got strong motivation to do something right. Andy you would've heard this before, is that right or not?
Yeah. No, so, yeah. So this is switching the view a little bit to a macro view of education, right? So, if you look at high performing nations in the world, and of course Ban Har being Dr. Yeap Ban Har who's very, very close friend to all of us and a mentor to many of us. If you look at high stakes education or not, sorry, going back to high performing nations in education, the top performers always have a poll fact. It's not just pushing people to do the right thing, right? But there's also a poll factor. And that manifests itself in writing very, very carefully crafting high stakes exams in a way that pushes the teachers to do what you need them to do. So when you write high stakes exams, you have to encourage them to do the things that they need to do.
So the way they do that in Singapore is that 80% of the national exam at end of primary school, what they call the PSLE, 80% of the exam is very difficult problem solving. Why? Because you can't teach to the test to problem solving. You can't teach people to answer unfamiliar questions. So significant part of the exam is questions that they've never seen before. So the challenge is getting the best test writers in the world to write questions that the kids will never have seen. Because then you can't teach to the test you have to teach to the core skills, right? You have to teach to the attributes, the five core competencies, communication, come on, Adam. You know what? They are communication-
What's the other four? Metacognition.
What's the last one? Visualization, right? You have to be able to do those five things to answer those questions. So you have to teach to the core competencies. You can't just teach two skills. So effectively, what are we talking about education particular my expertise mathematics, but I'm sure there's direct core relations to everything else, is those five core competencies and being mindful that some of them are skill based, some of them are knowledge based, right? Yeah and most importantly, there's the reasoning aspect as well, right? And you need to teach all of those things. All right, so you know what? We're going to talk about assessment again. Aren't we? This is going to happen.
Can we also do-
Can I just say one last thing? Can I say one last thing?
It's a test of assessment. No, honestly it's very quick I promise. Think of your favorite teacher in the world, right? Anyone listening, think of your favorite teacher in the world. And I guarantee one of the traits that that favorite teacher in the whole world had was you felt like they knew you.That's assessment.
Yeah, yeah. That's a good one. All right. Thank you, Adam. That's a great way to wrap up. We're going to have to talk about assessment again.
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