It remains to be seen if standard tests reflect the quality of teaching. It may be wise to consider the relative worth of international comparisons.
In education we try to reveal knowledge by using tests and exams. We don’t have any means to tell if what we are testing is the knowledge of the student or the willingness of the student to do well on the test.
Nowadays we are not only testing the student but also the teacher, the school and a nations educational system.
Graham Nuthall pointed out the paradox in this. If a student passes his finals with great marks, he will not say: “Ah, that wasn’t me, it were my great teachers and it was the wonderful school I attended”. He is more likely to say: “I’m smart and I can work very hard.”
Last week the TIMSS results were published and tomorrow PISA 2015 is due. We shall all look and see how are educational system is doing.
But there is a probleem with using standard tests to assess the effectiveness of teaching.
The problem lies in the difference between what a student knows and what he has learnt.
For instance: I was fluent in English when I started my secondary education in The Netherlands. So I had great grades on that subject. Did I learn a lot? No not really, although I found that it was more acceptable to replace my Canadian accent with a fake Oxford accent.
When a teacher wants to teach any given subject, he can do a pre-test and a post-test. On the pre-test all students will give wrong answers to a number of questions. On the post-test all students will give correct answers to a number of questions. This gives him an indication of what was learnt and thus how effective his teaching was.
Developers of standard tests make sure that questions that all students answer wrongly or correctly are eliminated. That’s how they make sure that they assess the knowledge of a student. In doing this they render their test unsuitable for assessing what a student has learnt, and that is precisely the information that could tell us something about the quality of the education he has received.
I look forward to PISA 2015 and I probably will join the discussion about whatever will be revealed to us. But we must bear in mind that the light that PISA casts on education only reveals a tiny sliver of what education really is. Its very hard to explain a miracle.
Source: Graham Nuthall: The Hidden Lives of Learners