Monday, January 5, 2009

THE DANGERS OF SCHOOL TESTING ADDICTION

From a report by the British Assessment Reform Group based on a survey of scores of studies.

The results of tests that are 'high stakes' for individual pupils have been found to have a particularly strong impact on those who receive low grades. However, tests that are high stakes for schools rather than for pupils (such as the national tests in England and state-mandated tests in the US) can have just as much impact. Pupils are aware of repeated practice tests and the narrowing of the curriculum.

Only those confident of success enjoy the tests. In taking tests, high achievers are more persistent, use appropriate test taking strategies and have more positive self-perceptions than low achievers. Low achievers become overwhelmed by assessments and demotivated by constant evidence of their low achievement. The effect is to increase the gap between low and high achieving pupils.

The use of repeated practice tests impresses on pupils the importance of the tests. It encourages them to adopt test-taking strategies designed to avoid effort and responsibility. Repeated practice tests are, therefore, detrimental to higher order thinking.

What is the overall impact on pupils' motivation?

An impact on self-esteem was reported in all studies dealing with this aspect of motivation. For example, two studies showed that, after the introduction of the National Curriculum tests in England, low-achieving pupils had lower self-esteem than higher achieving pupils. Before the tests were introduced there was no correlation between self esteem and achievement. . . Put simply, one impact of the tests was the reduction in self esteem of those pupils who did not achieve well.

Pupils at primary school are also aware that tests give only a narrow view of their learning. When tests pervade the ethos of the classroom, test performance is more highly valued than what is being learned.

Girls are reported as expressing more test anxiety than boys. Girls are also more likely to think that the source of success or failure lies within themselves rather than being influenced by external circumstances. This has consequences for their self-esteem, especially when they view their potential as fixed.

How does the impact vary with the conditions of testing?

The conditions found to affect the impact of testing relate to . . . the extent to which their effort is motivated by the prospect of reward or punishment that follows from the test performance (extrinsic motivation). This may have little to do with the learning or the value and satisfaction derived from what is learned (intrinsic motivation).

How does the impact vary with the characteristics of pupils?

Lower achieving pupils are doubly disadvantaged by tests. Being labeled as failures has an impact on how they feel about their ability to learn. It also lowers further their already low self-esteem and reduces the chance of future effort and success.

Only when low achievers have a high level of support (from school or home), which shows them how to improve, do some escape from this vicious circle. . .

Feedback from the teacher that focuses on how to improve or build on what has been done is associated with greater interest and effort. Feedback that emphasizes relative performance - for example, marks or grades formally or informally compared with those of others - encourages pupils to concentrate on getting better grades rather than on deeper understanding. . .

Collegiality-meaning constructive discussion of testing and the development of desirable assessment practice in the school-has a positive effect, whilst an exclusive focus on performance goals has a negative effect.

The degree to which learners are able to regulate their own learning also appears to foster pupils' interest and to promote focus on the intrinsic features of their work. Pupils who have some control over their work by being given choice and by being encouraged to evaluate their own work are more likely to value the learning itself rather than to focus only on whether or not it is correct.

When test scores are a source of pride to parents and the community, pressure is brought to bear on the school for high scores. Similarly, parents bring pressure on their children when the result has consequences for attendance at high social status schools. For many pupils this increases their anxiety even though they recognize their parents as being supportive.

Where impact on pupils has been found, what is the impact on teachers and teaching?

The evidence suggests that teachers can be very effective in training pupils to pass tests even when the pupils do not have the understanding or higher order thinking skills that the tests are intended to measure. When test results are used for making decisions that affect the status or future of pupils, teachers or schools, teachers adopt a teaching style that emphasizes transmission of knowledge. This favors those pupils who prefer to learn by mastering information presented sequentially.

Those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences are disadvantaged and their self-esteem is lowered. External tests have a constricting effect on the curriculum, resulting in emphasis on the subjects tested at the expense of creativity and personal and social development.

Successful actions include:

- adopting approaches that encourage self-regulated learning, including collaboration among pupils

- catering for a range of learning styles

- cultivating intrinsic interest in the subject

- putting less emphasis on grades

- promoting learning goal orientation rather than performance orientation

- developing pupils' self-assessment skills and their use of criteria relating to learning, rather than test performance

- making learning goals explicit and helping pupils to direct effort in learning

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