UK among world's worst for 'teaching to the test', research finds

Roger Titcombe's picture

Teaching to the test is just one of the perverse incentives that corrupt the high stakes English marketised education system that form a consistent thread in my book, 'Learning Matters'. However an article in TES on 18 December 2015 finds evidence from the international PISA tests that link 'teaching to the test' with poor performance. "UK schools are among the worst in the developed world for “teaching to the test”, a new analysis of the effect of income inequality on education suggests. According to the study by researchers at the University of Oxford, Britain and the US are the worst culprits for educating students just to pass an exam. The statistics were taken from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings and the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), both of which are administered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The results show that while UK 15-year-olds are close to average for maths, literacy and problem-solving, performance drops significantly among 16- to 24-year-olds. This suggests that learning ahead of exams has been superficial. The research looks into the correlation between a country’s economic inequality and its scores in international tests. The findings suggest that the greater the gap between rich and poor, the higher the chance of young people forgetting what they have learned. Lead researcher Professor Danny Dorling said that in more competitive societies, exam results mattered “far more”, so there was more pressure to achieve certain grades. The study looked at the 25 wealthiest countries in the OECD, and compared the maths, literacy and problem-solving scores of 15-year-olds with those of 16- to 24-year-olds. According to Professor Dorling, a social geographer, the findings suggest that UK schools focus on short-term knowledge acquisition to help pupils to pass tests, and this knowledge is then quickly forgotten." This is strong support for the arguments in my book that are set out in Section 3.6, which you can read here.

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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 22/12/2015 - 15:07

The OECD warned in 2011 there was already too much emphasis on exam results in England. This risked negative consequences such as teaching to the test.

Since then it's got worse. The emphasis on league table results has intensified and will continue to do so as schools are judged 'coasting' on results alone. Extra tests have been introduced such as the phonics screening test, the baseline test, the spelling, punctuation and grammar test.

Very few countries have high stakes exams at 16+. Where exams exist they are few in number and concentrate on core subjects. They are used to decided upper secondary progression and not to judge schools. It is this accountability to test scores which leads to schools doing whatever is necessary to get pupils to 'succeed' in the tests. This is to the detriment of deep, long-lasting learning.

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