Thursday, 29 November 2007

High stake national assessments and ranking

It's been a long day full of many, many presentations. Fortunately the last presentation was actually one of the more interesting ones, and I did not have to fight off the embarrassment of falling asleep too hard. It was a presentation by Jakob Wandall from Skolestyrelsen.
about the new national computer based assessments in secondary education that have been introduced in Denmark.

While the technical side of this was interesting (they were using computer adaptive testing for instance), the most interesting bit of the talk had nothing to do with technology at all. It had to do with how the test was used, presented used and regulated.

In England, high stakes tests are a very big deal. The main reason is that they are always is that they are inevitable translated into rankings and funding consequences, leading to teachers and school becoming completely obsessed with assessments, drilling students until they are green in the face in the idle expectation it might raise the school a place or 2 in the oh so important regional league tables. It is this abomination that I think the Danish have elegantly addressed (apparently with the English system as the example of what they wanted to avoid at all costs, and understandably so!)

The publication of the results of these national benchmarks is strictly regulated. The national average is published and used for policy purposes, but no regional or individual result is public. Teachers can review all results of all their students, and even responses to individual questions, but are forbidden to communicate these results other then to the student and their parents (and this communication is not in the form of a grade, but of a textual report with feedback). Students have to be given their result by a qualified teacher that discusses the results and provides relevant feedback on the performance.

So it is impossible for a school, a local authority or the press, to rate and rank scores just on the numerical outcomes of a single test. It provides stakeholders on every level with the relevant information, without the detrimental effects of publication that we see in the US and UK. I think we've got a lot to learn from the Scandinavian approach to education

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