CLASS ACTION

Standardised tests don't tell the whole story, but do provide valuable data

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2014, 10:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 October, 2014, 10:31am

My son lost all of his motivation to work hard at school this week. His class was subjected to a series of standardised tests and I feel these put too much pressure on a child of eight. The experience has affected his confidence and his enjoyment of school. Are these tests really necessary?

Any kind of test can be daunting for younger children like your son, especially if they are not used to being put in a pressurised situation where a series of questions needs to be answered in a set time.

It is not unusual for students to react negatively to the experience and it is important to remember that their results may not reflect their full potential. Tests provide a good teacher with additional data to gauge a student's performance, and the results are usually set against more formative data gathered on a daily basis.

But it is worth noting that there are some pupils who thrive in such situations, respond well, and relish the challenge of test conditions.

This skill at taking exams should not be underestimated. Even though many academic courses are judged alongside assignments done in a students' own time, exams are still a major part of many educational establishments. So it is good to be able to quickly answer problems in this way.

Research shows that a child's brain cannot think clearly when he or she is too nervous or stressed. Sometimes, even for no apparent reason, children can simply have a "bad day" and underperform.

But these one-off tests are only a snapshot of a child's ability on a particular day, and should not be taken as a definitive appraisal.

If administered annually, the results of standardised tests can help teachers check that students are making appropriate rates of progress. There are a wide range of strategies that teachers use to assess a child's performance.

Formative (ongoing) assessments, combined with every day teacher observations in a more relaxed situation, provide detailed data and build up an accurate picture of a student's strengths and weaknesses.

Some schools also build up portfolios of work samples and student achievement to provide further evidence of progress. All of the above would give a more rounded picture of your son's academic ability than the test results alone.

Your son's learning style could also affect his performance in tests. Was this test administered on a computer, for example, or was it a pencil and paper test?

Was it made up of multiple choice questions, or was it a series of problems to be answered or expanded on? The latter can be more challenging for young children.

Later, when your son moves on to high school, at least he will have some experience of being put in a timed test situation. He can take heart from the fact that examinations take an increasingly diminished role in overall assessments. Hopefully, this works to present a more comprehensive and fair picture of a student's abilities.

Many schools give standardised tests these days, if only to prove to themselves, and sometimes to the outside world, that they are performing at an expected or acceptable level.

This measurement depends on the intake of students and the support of parents, as well as the quality of learning and teaching.

A word with your son's teacher may help you explain to him how to be optimistic, and make sure he avoids building a phobia about tests.

Also, a discussion with your son about his reaction may be helpful. He may have his own explanation about his response to the tests.

The last thing you want is your son's enthusiasm for school to be quashed, or for him to lose confidence.

A positive attitude to learning is vitally important. Help him to put this behind him, and remember that test results should be kept in perspective.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school