07.05.08, Is Assessment A Blunt Tool?

I looked at the news today and was unsurprised to find that the PM was once again tinkering with the legislation. Ever since Tony Blair was in office every aspect of our lives has been brought under scrutiny time and time again, and many of the changes made have not, in the long run, been helpful.

Just for openers, I wonder if anyone took a sample of those doing the eleven plus and assessed them in the proposed manner as well, and then compared the results, and more importantly, published the results of this research. I’m surprised it hasn’t been lauded in the Press if it was so successful that we were all to be faced with the change of system. It would have shut up people like me!

In Northern Ireland we have been particularly proud of our education system, the level of grades and university places, and our place in the league tables of the UK. We are one of the last parts of the United Kingdom to retain the 11 plus, now there is a move afoot by the Minister to do away with that by 2010. The reaction to this has turned the whole of our education system upside down. We have a split system here where we have segregated schools, desegregated schools, and the usual mix of nursery elementary and secondary. We do not have private schools, but some have fee-paying pupils. What is now proposed by some of the secondary schools is that they conduct their own entrance exams, and only those reaching the standards required will be given places. There are a large number of schools throughout the Province that have a high reputation, and in consequence parents have been known to move house for their children to be able to attend. The other day I heard that one of my great-grandchildren had her name put down for kindergarten a week or two after she was born. The fact that the schools are confident that their new policy of entrance exams will not reduce the queue of people waiting to enrol children, is a clear indication that those people who respect education for what it is, are prepared to take the risk of the children suffering some worries for a very short period of time, and accept the subsequent expense of attending these schools, even at the expense of other choices.

I in the 30s, had the benefit of the LCC who introduced the 11 plus equivalent, and the scholarship system that went with it. We, parents and children, were delighted with the system, and we believed that others around the country were envious. Now, nearly 80 years on, a minority of psychologists, coupled with parents who have not the ability to see the advantages of academic selection, that the fact that while it may present worry and tantrums for a very short period of time, in the long run, is better than the random nature of the teacher assessment system. I believe in time there will inevitably have to be a reversal back to academic selection, but the sort of experiment taken on such a vast population instead of a trial, is unfair to those affected. Many of us have been complaining that our education system in the UK, taken overall, for a number of reasons has steadily become downgraded, and that the entrance requirements and degree standards of the universities have consequently been lowered to maintain the throughput.

Those who might read this article, will probably each take something different from it. This is the nature of thought processes nurtured in different environments. If you accept these two statements, you have an example of the permutations of reactions that will be placed as assessments across-the-board, randomly influencing the future of young people. In other words, I suggest that if you have 10 children each assessed by 10 different teachers, the assessments will vary considerably in each case. Every one of us knows that some teachers more than others have favourites, and we also know that individuals do not all react on parallel lines. I suggest therefore that without a major yardstick, personal assessments affected by inference are a very blunt tool.

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