Whilst you can objectively test and rank students’ knowledge, teaching is far more than imparting knowledge* and the kind of stuff that matters — learning — cannot be objectively tested. Testing students is a waste of teachers’ precious time and resources. It is onerous and the results are of no educational use whatsoever.
In teaching method, Mastery, that is, a programmed learning of facts, is a respected teaching tool for quickly learning entry skills to learnings. Its value is that at every stage the items can be tested and assessed and the Mastery of learnable facts is practically guaranteed. The testing processes as used in Mastery are also a valued and respected teaching tool. However, of all the many different ways of learning, Mastery is perhaps the worst, because unless the reasons for the learning — the motivation to learn — are addressed by the learner, the mind sees little reason for retaining the information and making the necessary connections, and so throws it out — it doesn’t learn it.
With any objective testing, you can only test with any degree of certainty, the lowest-ranked educational skill — knowledge*. That’s easy to teach and easy to test, as the Mastery process can demonstrate. But education is importantly about teaching for the higher levels of comprehension, application, synthesis: creatively and evaluation. Those objectives require highly trained professional teachers and adequate resources to do. Testing and quantifying — that is, assigning a numerical value to performance, becomes more and more inappropriate, the higher the levels students reach.
If the political push to test is based upon the failures of the Liberal party, the Minister may have good cause, because the Liberal push for privatisation resulted in private schools pursuing high ENTER scores and that is best done pursuing mastery programs. However, knowing that every student could have expected to get one hundred per cent, the examining forces cheated. They didn’t cooperate! They wouldn’t tell students exactly what would be on the examination papers! So teachers could only move forward looking through a rear-view mirror of last years exams, dissecting tantalising clues the examiners throw to the chooks (the teachers) and/or the teachers getting pally with the examiners. Score the examiners 0 out of 100.
So by introducing examinations, especially to primary schools, the Minister for Education is missing the target of assisting education by a mile, and what good teaching time she is wasting. Or is it that her advisors have some other agenda? Frankly, I cannot believe that the testing agenda proposed is based on advice from any respected educationalist in Australia.
The Minister has her choices. If her aim is for all teachers to get every student to achieve a hundred per cent pass rate, teachers can easily do that for her, but she must tell them exactly what knowledge she want to be taught. And therein lies the problem for the Minister. Because whilst one can exactly describe and assign marks for tasks at the lowest level, such as what two and two "make", a student cannot exactly describe and an examiner cannot assign an objective number for tasks even at the next-to-lowest taxonomical level. For instance, how could you test if the children understand that two plus two means the following: firstly "2" means a doubling of the same kind of individual things and the "+2" means to join the same number of the same things with the previous things, and so on? How many different answers do you think you would get if you if you showed to primary-school children two tiny apples and two large oranges and asked the students to add them together? And what would be your remedial teaching strategy be if one student answered "four" and another student answered two and two smaller ones and another answered "there would be lots more in them than there is in those ones"? And what number out of ten would you assign to each of the possible answers? And if you admit defeat at answering that question, here’s another. Can you think of any simpler task than teaching and testing two plus two?
Certainly such testing would be onerous and the results would be of no educational value whatsoever.
Raymond F. Smith.
Retired. Ex senior lecturer in Communications Media at the Regional Centre for Science and Mathematics in Malaysia and Area Specialist with the Australian Science Education Project. Producer of the RIME and MCTP mathematics materials.
* Actually you don’t need teachers to teach facts. Any competently produced Programmed-learning courses could achieve their Terminal Objectives in a fraction of the time and effort that teachers need. Learning about facts is a far different ball game. As a side note, too many carpet baggers have produced bad-quality Programs, which has put Programmed learning into disrepute. A leading Melbourne private school once asked me to recommend programmed courses in Maths. I could not recommend any. Yet Maths is the easiest subject for devising a programmed course