Educational testing in the UK and around the world

This week we are sharing two articles focusing on issues related to educational change and testing.

First, we share Melanie Ehren’s latest IOE Blog post, “As ‘Show Your Working’ test replaces mental maths at 11, what kind of learning are we valuing?”  In this post, Ehren describes recent changes to math exams. The new exams, which were ushered in along with a new National Curriculum, require students to show their math work on paper. While students had been assessed on their ability to do math “in their heads,” the new exam poses more difficult questions to students and requires that they show their calculations on paper. As Ehren explains,

The change in types of arithmetic questions, which clearly favour traditional methods to carry out complex calculations more quickly, begs the question of the kind of mathematics we want our children to master and how appropriate these complex context-free calculations are for children in Year 6 of primary school.

The new exams are emblematic of a “more ambitious” curriculum that raises the bar for children’s learning, particularly in the areas of “maths, English, computing and science.” However, recent articles point out that with the higher standards comes a period of lower outcomes, which many have expressed concern about. Additional concerns have been raised about the quality of these assessments. Further concerns have been raised about new UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to raise standards and introduce more grammar schools, which accept only the strongest academic students. The concern, expressed by Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, is that schools need to improve the quality of education for all students, not only the select few. As Schleicher argues, “The fact that too many students fall through the cracks in too many schools is a far bigger problem than not having enough schools which are selective. The issue lies within schools, not between schools.”

The latest Lead the Change interview with Wiel Veugelers, professor of education at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands, serves as an interesting read in juxtaposition to the Ehren post. Veugelers, a long time scholar of education change issues around the world, argues that we need to pay attention to the socializing function of education and the role education plays in the development of citizens. Veugelers explains, “I think a socially just global world needs to develop a strong unyielding bond between autonomy and social concern. The Western world should become more social, many other parts of the world more autonomous. Therefore, it is important that we pay attention to the purpose of educational change.”  Towards the end of the interview, Veugeler shares what excites him about educational change:

…educational change is, in actual fact, thinking about what kind of world we want and how we can contribute to making it happen…it is also important to make our research really international; to make our knowledge multipolar, to paraphrase Chantal Mouffe. This means that we recognize different ideas and practices and give more credits to other visions.

To that end, we share a few recent news reports on issues related to educational testing from around the world in an effort to explore however briefly how the issue of standard, testing, and access might pop up in various education reform efforts and what we might be able to learn from them.


Schools prepare for testing times ahead – Times of India

Continuous tests an obstacle to learning? – Times of India


Vietnam education ministry’s plan for multiple-choice math test sparks debate


Pen and paper tests may stay

South Africa

South Africa: Western Cape Education On Writing of Systemic Tests


Classroom concerns over new national tests

Deirdre Faughey

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