The extensive focus on test results is worrying* says a major report from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The use of “benchmarking”, although important in any successful school system, is more prevalent in England than in most other OECD countries. But OECD warns that such “high-stake tests can have negative consequences for educational outcomes”.
The possible adverse effects are that such emphasis:
1 Encourages grade inflation
2 Gives examination boards no incentive to uphold higher standards than their competitors
3 Encourages “gaming” and “teaching to tests”
4 Encourages an emphasis on skills that can be easily taught and easily measured thereby reducing the time spent on non-cognitive skills.
To this list could be added:
1 Encourages schools to manipulate their intake so that the majority of their pupils are chosen for their ability to pass the tests.
2 Impacts disproportionately on low-ability children and those who are disadvantaged.
3 Reduces the morale of teachers in schools judged poor because their exam results are low.
4 Discourages teachers from applying for jobs in schools whose intake means the school is likely to be at the bottom of the exam league tables.
1 A lessening of reliance of GCSE scores
2 That the Government consider the negative effects of having five competing exam boards
3 The use of “more sophisticated measures” to measure school effectiveness.
4 That “non-failing” schools are properly inspected. The system whereby such schools have a lighter inspection regime is an incentive for schools to improve scores to avoid inspections.
What are these “sophisticated measures”?
1 More emphasis on lesson observation and the learning environment
2 “Outcomes for statistical comparisons should be separated from school grades to make output measures independent of grade inflation and changes to the curriculum”
3 Sampling methods to track changes. This sampling would remove incentives to “teach to tests”.
4 The use of in-depth interviews “to analyse development of non-cognitive skills”. OECD recommends that these interviews should be devised and run by an independent body with no connection to Ofsted or exam boards. This organisation would be charged with measuring school quality over time, districts, school types and social background.
Is OECD correct in worrying about what they perceive to be an excessive emphasis on exam grades as a way of measuring UK schools? If so, are OECD's ideas good ones? Are there methods which could be added to the OECD list?
* “Reforming Education in England” OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom 2011 pp100-2.