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Testing The Young – What is the Point

testing-the-young-what-is-the-pointThere are still some schools here in Dubai seem to make their students take lots and lots of tests. Spelling; Maths; Weekly, End of Topic; End of Semester; the list seems to be endless. But what is the point? Why do we need to test so much?

We want to know what a child has learned, of course. When we teach a child we need to know that they have learned something, but this then leads to the question “How can we find out?” The easiest way is to give children a set of questions, highlighting the things we want to know they have learned, and then encourage them to give the answers we want. Regurgitating facts is one of the tried and tested ways that we can get children to repeat back to us the things that we think they ought to know. And there lies the problem. Repeating information has very little to do with learning.

A programme that is content based, that relies on 20th Century beliefs that we know best what children need to learn, and that bases its success on questions such as: What is a child’s score? What is their position in the class table? How successful are we as a school based on our test scores? These are the kinds of programmes that prepare children for the past, not the future. A belief that all children need to be able to recall facts and figures, that all children need to succeed by taking the same test in the same way, and that all children need to be successful in the same way, has little to do with the way that we now know – through rigorous international research – that children learn best.

Questions that forward thinking schools, and educators, ask tend to be along the lines of: What is it that the child wants to know? How can we inspire them to find things out for themselves? How can we help them develop the tools and skills to do so? How can we measure that learning in a meaningful way, taking into account their learning style and personal skill set? Asking the child to take ownership of their own learning, to be driven by their search for knowledge, and an enthusiastic participant in life, this is really what education is really about now.

Testing is important, and cannot be ignored. We need to measure growth and success. Here in Dubai the annual School Inspections by KHDA shows that measuring against a scale of set criteria is a meaningful and transparent way of assessing what is going on in Dubai schools. However, the nature of inspection is to gather evidence over time, meet with all relevant parties, give a clear rubric of success for schools that can be followed throughout the year, and advise on how best to move the school forward. This range of information gathering and goal setting is very effective, and has been part of school – and teacher – assessments and inspections for many years. So, why are some schools still not treating student learning and successes in the same way?

Many schools have already moved towards a more rounded form of assessment, particularly in the Early Years and Primary, giving a more holistic view of children’s learning. The new EYFS Portfolio has clearly moved away from checking off when a child has achieved a Learning Goal to recording the journey towards success. SAT’s are now gone, and in their place individualised learning records which allow teachers to show a true reflection of the child’s learning. This makes much more sense when we consider the individual journeys that they take. Used as part of a holistic programme of assessments, testing is a valuable tool for teachers to use, but isn’t it time that we recognise that testing alone has had its day?

Article Courtesy of

Vanessa Louise Temple

Coordinator: Foundation Years

Hartland International School


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