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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Can students learn how to solve mathematics problems by taking maths tests?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 26 February 2020

By Francesca Borgonovi, British Academy Global Professor, UCL Institute of Education and Francesco Avvisati, Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD.

Few subjects in education spark as much controversy as tests. Many people recognise that tests are useful to students because they provide a strong incentive to study rather than procrastinate; they can help teachers because they provide information about what students know and what they do not know; and they are useful to education policy makers because they promote accountability. But most people consider tests as little more than a bitter medicine that one needs to swallow to get better; and many worry that, as with medicine, too much testing may have toxic effects – so much so that “teaching to the test” and “learning for a test” are seen as diverting valuable time and resources from education. (more…)

‘Too many tests for no good reason’: what do parents really think about primary assessment?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 30 January 2020

Alice Bradbury.

The debate about testing in primary schools is usually dominated by teachers and unions – who decry the pressures associated with statutory test – and the government – who argue testing is necessary to hold schools to account.

The voices of one group – parents – are often overlooked. New research explores parents’ views in detail, however, with some interesting findings, which can be summed up by the phrase ‘Too many tests for no good reason’. 

This phrase provides the title for the research, which was commissioned by the More than a Score coalition of education and parent groups.  Their report is based on a survey of over 2,000 parents of children aged 3-13, conducted by YouGov. The results raise some serious questions for those who see the current testing regime in primary schools as fit for purpose. 


We could end exam distress by removing the root cause: exams

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 June 2018

John White
The anxiety generated by school examinations is well-known. Responses to a Guardian call-out in May for views on the new GCSEs produced ‘an outpouring that was overwhelmingly – although not exclusively – negative. The more extreme responses included accounts of suicide attempts by two pupils at one school, breakdowns, panic attacks and anxiety levels so intense that one boy soiled himself during a mock exam… “I have never, in over 20 years of teaching, seen pupils suffer with so much anxiety and other symptoms of poor mental health in the run up to exams,” says an English teacher.
There are kinds of personal distress that have nothing to do with school examinations – things like depression, grief, pain caused by sickness or physical, emotional and sexual abuse, fear of being bullied, of your family not having enough money to eat, of police prejudice.
All of us (sadists and psychopaths apart) are horrified by others’ suffering. We want (more…)

What can short standardised tests tell us about the attainment and progress of individual pupils and of schools?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 May 2018

Rebecca Allen.
Measuring changes in pupil attainment is at the heart of our work as education researchers. It is a practice that is also routinely carried out in schools to monitor pupil progress and teaching quality. One means of doing this is through the purchase of standardised tests in core subjects such as maths and English that report a student’s performance relative to a national distribution.
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) regularly uses these standardised tests in their randomised controlled trials. When trials are completed, the data is archived in routinely and matched to administrative exams data as it becomes available. This presents a unique opportunity for independent researchers to analyse the statistical properties of these commercial tests, which will in turn inform trial design, but also has important implications for how they are used in schools. (more…)

Six reasons why Baseline the Sequel will be a harder sell

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 29 November 2017

Alice Bradbury. 
Last week the government announced details of their latest attempt to introduce Baseline Assessment into Reception classrooms in England. As widely reported, this policy will cost £10 million, with the sole aim of producing data on children aged four which can be compared with their test results seven years later. The return of Baseline, after an unsuccessful foray into testing four-year-olds in 2015, is based on the idea that the best way to judge schools is to measure their ‘value added’. The outcome of the Primary Assessment Consultation was that the best place to establish this starting point was in the first weeks of school in Reception.
There is a certain logic to this, and the resultant possible downgrading of Key Stage 1 Sats to non-statutory in 2023 (as they will no longer be needed as a starting point) may be popular. But, the findings from my research on the previous version of Baseline (with Guy Roberts-Holmes), suggest that (more…)

GCSE and A-level results: it’s not just the grades that matter

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 15 August 2017

File 20170810 27655 1a279l5
Why GCSE and A Level subject choices matter. shutterstock

Jake Anders, UCL and Catherine Dilnot, Oxford Brookes University. 
A-level results will soon be out, with more than 300,000 students eagerly waiting to find out if they’ve made the grade. Then come GCSE results, with even more students keen to find out how they’ve done.
Whether students are heading to university, into an apprenticeship or straight into employment, chances are they will all be wishing and hoping and dreaming and praying of a set of grades that will reflect their level of academic accomplishment.
For would-be university applicants, there is often a requirement that students take a particular set of subjects at A-level – and achieve a certain grade – to be in with a chance of getting a place on a degree course. To study medicine, for example it’s often required that (more…)

How much testing is too much? Is the 2% solution too strong, too weak or just wrong?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 28 October 2015

Chris Husbands
How much is too much? It’s a question we tend to ask when in the proximity of strawberry crèmes, or gin and tonics. One is fine, two could be great, but carry on and it all goes horribly wrong.   On Saturday 24 October, the Obama administration applied what we might call the strawberry crème principle to education testing. In the USA, education is the responsibility of each state, not the federal government – but over the past two decades, the federal government has developed programmes with aspirational titles such as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Reach for the Sky (although I made the last one up).
Federal funding for education is tied to states’ agreement to accept accountability through testing. Tests developed rapidly, first in English and mathematics and then in formally non-tested subjects including PE and social studies – sometimes as a way of measuring pupil performance but also, and perhaps equally, as a way of managing teacher evaluation.
Opposition to testing was mounting. On the political right, conservatives argued that rapid development of (more…)

Selection at 11 – a very English debate

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 5 December 2014

Chris Husbands
Originally posted on SecEd
It is a persistent undercurrent in English educational debate, but it is peculiarly English: should academic selection at the age of 11 be restored?
Boris Johnson, perhaps in response to perceived UKIP pressure, has declared himself in favour of more grammar schools, and Teresa May, more cautiously, has welcomed plans for a satellite grammar school in her constituency of Maidenhead. In Kent, the Weald of Kent grammar school is preparing a new proposal to establish what is either (depending on your view) a new grammar school in Sevenoaks or a satellite site in Sevenoaks.
The arguments for restoring grammar schools are couched in terms of opportunity and social mobility: Boris Johnson called them mobilisers of opportunity. But the evidence to support this is almost non-existent. (more…)