Tag Archive | testing

Educating without testing

Feel free to share, borrow, post elsewhere and help change minds!

It was among the most commonly asked questions when we were home educating. Two most commonly asked questions actually.

Firstly, do you test them?

Secondly, how do you know they’re learning if you don’t?

I have two questions in response: have parents ever really thought about the value of the tests kids do in school and what they show? And, don’t we know our children anyway?

It’s so sad that parents have been so conditioned by political propaganda to believe that education cannot progress without testing.

It CAN. It DOES!

This is continually being proven by home educated children who become educated people without ever having been tested in the conventional, schooly way at home. Who still go on into higher education. Who still go on to sit exams – often their first taste of formal education. And who still go on to get the grades they want.

Okay, any wise parent would perhaps suggest some kind of practice papers first. But all other forms of testing, especially standardised ones (no child is standard) are usually a complete waste of a learner’s time, are not valuable developmentally, and can even be extremely damaging in that they label, create self-fulfilling (inaccurate) prophecies, often degrade and are in no way a fair representation of a person’s capabilities, knowledge or aptitudes.

But another insulting aspect of the practice of continually testing children as conventional schooling does, is the assumption that a) children don’t know themselves well (how would they in school – they never get an opportunity to really find out) b) the teachers don’t know the children (how could they when so much time is wasted on box ticking rather than truly getting to know the kids in their classes) c) the parents don’t either because they are so excluded from the educational process and treated as if they are ignorant.

The educational and testing system, that has been devised by politicians wanting to make themselves popular, has taken learning away from the learners and created one for an adult agenda. The adult agenda of needing to measure, or needing to satisfy social one-up-man-ship, of needing to prove something to someone else. The kids are used as pawns in adult games and testing has been the means by which this happens.

Many parents home educate just to get away from this harmful practice that furthers a youngsters education not at all.

And, as many home educators find out or already believe, becoming educated is a continuous, ongoing, personal process that doesn’t need measurement, is up to the individual, albeit facilitated by others helping that individual understand how to make their place in the world through their education and how to contribute. It therefore should be owned by the individual and not by the state. And consequently should not be constantly tested – purely for state purposes – which is the way it is.

Many home schooling families facilitate their young people in becoming competent, social, intelligent, productive, educated and qualified (those who want to) without testing ever having been part of their learning experience.

It’s such a pity that schools can’t stop this political game playing and do the same. The only way for that to happen is to keep testing and politics out of it. The youngsters (and teachers) would be a lot happier, have time to learn and discover a lot more, understand themselves better, and possibly the numbers of those with dwindling mental wellness would begin to drop!

There are many parents who believe that children are more than a score, who want to let kids be kids, and end the testing regime. But it needs many many more, especially those not involved in home education, to demand that this ludicrous testing system be stopped.

And be bold enough to believe in and practice education without testing.

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If home educating parents did this….

I’m so glad to see that parents of school children are taking some action against some of the abysmal practices forced upon their kids under the guise of educating them in schools.

I may be a home educator but I care deeply about the education of ALL children however they are learning.

Whenever researching news surrounding the system and listening to the parents who have kids in school, it’s dishearteningly negative and I’m sometimes really shocked by what I hear. No wonder home educating is constantly on the increase. No wonder that children’s mental health is suffering (although no one ever brings up the subject of school stress as part of the cause). And no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned with what they’re told to do to kids to make them get the scores.

The latest protest is about the testing and I’m delighted to see a campaign against the shocking move to test reception children. See this article in the Guardian.

Testing is a complete waste of a learner’s time (whatever age), does nothing to enhance learning or the learner’s experience, is unreliable and invalid when it comes to both judging someone’s capabilities and predicting how capable they’ll be in the future, the results of which often act like an educational death sentence to those who don’t perform well on the day. See this post here.

I hope they instigate change – but it’s changes in mindset that is required as much as anything. See the More Than a Score campaign here.

The other shocking school news that’s hit the headlines recently has been the concern over the use of ‘isolation units’ in schools. According to a report from the BBC pupils can spend hours in these units, among them those with special needs, causing many of them upset and longer term damage to their wellbeing, let alone their education.

The terrible irony of this is; if home educating parents were found to be subjecting their kids to hours of isolation in the booths pictured the Local Authority would be in uproar, probably deciding we were unfit parents and have the kids taken into care. Yet this is a legal and increasing practice in many schools.

Would you use this approach in your home education?

I understand there are many difficulties for staff in schools with pupils who will not engage and disrupt the learning of the others as a consequence.

But it strikes me that a) if the learning taking place there was inspiring and b) if it answered the needs of the diversity of the kids in our society and c) and if it wasn’t so rigid and inhibited by testing regimes designed for the adults and the politics and the politicians’ popularity, not the learners, we would have no need of isolation rooms and we also probably wouldn’t have a flood of parents opting to home educate. I’ve said before; if there was an inspiring and engaging place for our kids to go and learn with empathetic and understanding adults who were free to teach with the creative approaches many of them could if they were only delivered from the imprisonment of stupid rules and regualtions, then why would people take the enormous and scary step of not sending the kids there, giving up their time and doing it themselves?

But that’s the irony of education politics! The ministers are too blinkered – or uncomfortable – to realise the truth. They’re hopefully going to have a lot more protests on their hands!

 

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.

 

The academic snobbery of the 1950s still exists!

I’m reading an old favourite to put me to sleep at night.

My retro edition

The simplest of books are needed sometimes to slow my thoughts down after a busy day. Plot led ones are no good; they either stir me up or I’m too tired to remember what’s happened. Inspirational books set my mind racing when I’m hoping for the opposite effect.

So I’m visiting a bit of Miss Read. In particular her ‘Village Dairy’, a rather romantic reflection of old fashioned rural lives.

I read ‘Village School’ years ago when I was teaching in one myself and thought it so dated. Now I love the gentleness of it and realise that some of the things the old school mistress observes about the life of the times are almost relevant today. I think some of you homeschooling readers will see what I mean!

I came across this passage where she reflects on the lives of the country children she teaches, many of whom would rather be out earning a living in the country they know, rather than being forced to do ‘book work for which they had little sympathy’:

It is not surprising that today some (children) still resent being kept at school, particularly if there’s nothing new or absorbing to learn offered them’.

Sound a bit familiar? And these days they have to stay till they’re 18!

She talks about how many of them have in depth knowledge of the world around them and, out of the classroom, are building the life skills to go with it. And she maintains that forcing language, grammar, book learning and theoretical maths is of no use to them when, as they get older, they already know what they want to do and are already building the skills with which to do it.

This was in the 1950s! I still get what she’s saying in today’s world!

Obviously no child should be denied the opportunity to explore other avenues, other areas, other skills and interests than those on their doorstep or pursued by their parents. With today’s Internet opportunities they have that chance. But it’s always limited for the more practical occupations are still devalued by educational emphasis only placed on the academic. It’s almost as if the snobbery that existed back in Miss Read’s day, about the more practical and physical occupations being for the less intelligent, still exists.

The trouble is so many kids are not suited to academics, however intelligent they are, and do not learn well through academic approaches. And what saddens me even more is that we still look down on them for it, even in our so called inclusive way of looking at the world.

We perhaps need a much more practical and life relevant approach – as many home educators use – to what youngsters learn and how they learn it, in order to provide the inclusivity that politics boasts about.

Inclusivity does not only apply to ethnicity or disability, it applies to all learning needs and should provide for all learning preferences, personal strengths and aptitudes.

And recognise the fact, without judgement, that not everyone’s needs can be catered for through academic approaches, test related curriculum content, or even being in a school setting.

I guess it would be almost impossible to completely cater for the diversity of our young people. But how much do we even try?

I fear that we are moving away from recognising the need to try by making all young people fit into a system that continues to force children to learn through doing ‘book work’ (or in today’s terms – online work), just as in the days of Miss Read!

The testing propaganda…

All through our years of home educating we never once tested the kids.

That’s not to say they didn’t encounter tests along their route. There was the odd swimming certificate! And various dance and drama exams. And the tests they set themselves in the course of their learning lives.

And did this non-tested life leave them totally useless as learners? Did this mean they didn’t progress – just because we didn’t test that they were? Did this make them unable to function in the mainstream world, or at college or Uni? Was it the case that because they weren’t tested and measured throughout their learning lives that they were ‘behind’ the standard expected of them when they entered further and higher education? And were unable to sit tests when the time came?

OF COURSE NOT!

That is just propaganda told to us by those who want to measure (usually the government – for their own political agenda and schools for climbing up league tables).

The real truth is that:

  • Testing is NOT required for kids to become educated.
  • Testing is a waste of kids’ time – they could be enjoying new experiences and learning new stuff not regurgitating the old.
  • Testing RARELY aids the learner or the learning – it’s for the sake of the adults.
  • Testing is an INACCURATE assessment of a child’s ability and knowledge anyway.

So I’m really pleased to read reports recently that many are rebelling against proposed tests for the very young in schools. Heads, teachers and according to this article even the suppliers of the test, suggesting it is verging on immoral.

Read this one in the Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/16/tests-reception-children-immoral-england-play

‘Proposed tests verging on the immoral’ click on the picture and read the article

Most home educating learners go through their lives without doing tests. Yet, like ours did, they go on to be competent, skilled, motivated adults who graduate into work or Uni or mainstream life with the skills, intelligence and attitude needed to help them progress and get where they want to go. They are proof that testing is not really needed for educational achievement or progress through life.

Kids in school are tested, grouped, graded and I would say degraded by a practice that is for the benefit of a political agenda and one-up-man-ship not for the benefit of the individual. It harms a child’s progress rather than enhances it, as politicians would argue is its purpose. It is solely for adult back-slapping, or degradation. The poor kids are used as pawns in the establishment’s game.

And the more that parents, heads, teachers and other professionals rebel against it the better for children everywhere.

Forget testing; educate for Love and Independence

We are a nation obsessed with stats. We seem to need tests results for everything. And our kids are at the mercy of this adult obsession, for test results mean nothing to the kids, even though they’re the ones suffering for them.

The crazy thing is that the most important things in life, the things that are vital to our wellbeing, success and survival cannot really be tested. Things like love, happiness, warm relationships, responsibility, family, health. And neither can educational maturity be tested. You can test how much is learned. But you cannot test competence in using it – which is the whole point, surely. So why are we putting our kids through it and damaging their mental health with the pressure in some cases?

It’s a shocking deception. For we’re telling our kids, through the hidden curriculum incessant testing promotes, that results are the only valid thing about them, about education and about life.

Read George Monbiot on the subject here

Worse than that; it makes ‘failures’ of far too many kids who could achieve in so many un-measurable ways, like through practical subjects, creative subjects, game design, environmental skills and experiences. Achievements that could be immensely valuable to society – some more valid than an A* in English, for example.

So I think we should stop all this testing and start educating for the untestable!

Educate for experience. Educate them to experience happiness and contentment. Happy and content people make up a better society than those who are frustrated and dissatisfied as many youngsters end up.

Educate young people through experiences that will help get to know themselves, what their strengths and weaknesses are, to understand what they love and why, who they love and why, thus developing all aspects of their character and allowing them to see how they can contribute and what great contributions they can make with those strengths. Un-measurable strengths.

Educate for love. That is; educate to create strong bonds in a climate of mutual respect (rather than hierarchical one-upmanship), let them learn how relationships can be nurtured by nurturing an understanding of each other, of empathy and inclusion, not failure, comparison and shame.

Educate for independence by offering independence, rather than keeping them so controlled and inhibited by dismissing what they would (and can) bring to their own learning. Instead, abandon learning for tested objectives and leave experiences open ended so that they can take away the idea that independence (and education) is open ended and their own responsibility. There is no chance to practice responsibility in a place where youngsters have no say.

Most adults are not brave enough to allow any of this. They are stuck in their desperate need to have everything qualified. That’s ‘how to get on in life’ they threaten. Funny how so many people have got on in life without (Jamie Oliver springs to mind)!

Home education is creating independent, articulate, intelligent young people who are getting on in life having bypassed the incessant testing routines of school. Some have opted – as independent decision makers – to become qualified to further their chosen route. Others choose other pathways.

But home schooling is an un-measured pathway. Yet despite that, it seems to be producing un-measurable success in these youngsters! And proving that testing is not necessarily a prerequisite of becoming educated.

So what’s this obsession with testing really for, other than satisfying adult comfort and political manipulation?

A question many do not want to face!

Kids don’t particularly needs schools to learn!

For some, it’s scary to think about their children learning without schools or ‘proper’ teachers. Especially if that’s all you’re used to.

Getting your head round that idea is a problem for most home educating families when they start out.

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat...

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat…

Because parents mostly believe that in order to learn kids need the following:

  • qualified teachers
  • to be taught
  • to be in classrooms, sitting still mostly
  • to be told what to do, when to do it and how
  • to follow a curriculum
  • to learn in incremental stages
  • to be tested regularly
  • to learn through academics

But those who’ve been home educating a while are discovering that other ways of learning work just as well without any of this stuff in place. Successful home educated graduates are proof.

For example they’re finding out that, contrary to the points above:

  • Qualified teachers can help children learn – granted. But equally there are plenty of other adults, parents being among them, who can also help children learn by being engaged with them, by answering their questions and encouraging more, by being interested, facilitating experiences and spending the time. Time that teachers don’t have.
  • Anyway, children also learn without teaching, through the incidental activities they do, through conversations, explorations and investigations.
  • Learning can take place anywhere. At any time, doing anything, however wriggly and unstill they are, without ever entering a classroom actually – given the right climate. And many are proving it now.
  • And they don’t always require to be told what to do, when to do it and how, if at all!
  • So therefore a curriculum isn’t always necessary. It’s just a useful tool which you can use or lose, depending on how you want to use it rather than have it use you!
  • Some learning is built on understanding that’s gone before. some learning happens in a kind of non-structured patchwork that’s being proven to be equally successful. It depends which approach suits the child and family’s needs best. Stage- or grade-led learning is not the only approach that works. Or a guarantee of successful education.
  • Testing IS NOT necessary. I repeat; testing is not necessary. It doesn’t advance the learner. It’s just another tool you can use or lose depending on your preference. (There’s a previous post which explains here)
  • And there are all sorts of non-academic ways to learn; conversation, watching films or YouTube clips, experiential, practical and firsthand, trips, trial and error, field study. The more the learning experience ignites all the senses the firmer it will be established!

It takes a while to trust in this process. You have to open your mind, your eyes, and watch and learn how your children really are learning without any of the conventional requirements you might have thought were needed.

But trust this; there are thousands of home educated young people now proving this to be true!

(If you want to know more there’s a long chapter on learning approaches in my book Learning Without School Home Education‘)