by henry jeffery, stabroek news

“Educational assessment must overcome a central dilemma, … If there are no consequences attached to a test, then it will do little to motivate healthy change within the educational system; however, if the result of an assessment is highly consequential, then it may engender unproductive or undesirable outcomes such as narrowing the curriculum, “teaching to test,” and weakening the role of teacher” (Braun, Henry, et al (2006) Improving Education Through Assessment, Innovation, and Evaluation. American Academy of Arts and Sciences).

future notesGiven its nature, the decision to change the placement system in one year appears to me amoral and possibly illegal, for as far as I am aware, the ministry has made little or no effort to explain to the population what happens to the legitimate expectations of those who have already done assessments at grades 2 and 4.

Competition for places, particularly at the top schools, is usually very tight. Many times students tie for places and one mark can make a huge difference to which school a pupil is awarded. Simple logic would seem to indicate the existence of a problem.

For easy appreciation, let’s say that at grades 2 and grades 4 I averaged 95%.  But for one reason or another, I was only able to gain 75% at this year’s assessment. Under the new arrangement I will be awarded 75% as my final score. However, under the old system I would have been awarded 78% (95% of 15% (5% for Level 2 and 10% for Level 6), namely 14.25% plus 75% of 85% for Level 6, namely 63.75%) and possibly a better school.

Will the new system disadvantage some participants and if so, what plans does the ministry have to deal with such situations? Indeed, it appears to me that if on a sensible assessment the system needs to revert to essentially what it was before, the proper way would be to let it run its course and introduce the new system in 3 years. That may not, however, be good political optics.

Reverting to essentially the old placement system is retrograde as it is based upon archaic beliefs about assessments and is being implemented without the kind of public discourse that we would have expected from a modern government that came to office expounding the virtues of inclusiveness, etc. We would have expected the regime to clearly state both the problem and its plans to remedy the situation. Instead, what we have been presented with is a hodgepodge of some rather quaint and archaic anecdotes.

For example, from the minister of education we hear, “At Grade Two you’re supposed to be enjoying school not being primed for exams.” Priming children for examinations at such a young age, according to him, can seriously hinder their social development. The minister decided that discarding the grade 2 and 4 assessments will make children happier (Minister makes good on promise to discard parts of NGSA. KN 22/12/2016).

As Karl Marx indicated, happiness must be located in the context of necessity. At the ages being considered here most children would become happier if the minister closed his schools altogether! But just as school is a must, assessment (the methods or tools that are used to evaluate, measure, and document the learning progress, academic readiness, skills and educational needs of students) is a must, and most types of assessments contain some form of grading.

Therefore, what is usually the problem is not the assessment itself but the use that is made of it. The importance of that use is what makes the assessment a high or low stake one. As the introductory quote indicates, some appropriate level of pressure is necessary if the intention is to bring about meaningful change, and by only assigning 5% and 10% to grades 2 and 4 respectively, we sought to make the assessment low stake.

By way of example, let me indicate that in this part of the 21st century, in some of the most advantageous education circles even playschool is not about play anymore and infants are primed for examinations.

If you live in London, England, can afford it and want to enroll your child in one of the more prestigious pre-prep schools, in most cases be prepared to have your 3-4 year old pass a school entrance assessment.

In some schools these infants are expected to recognise and write their names, use everyday implements such as scissors correctly, recognise numbers to 10 and/or count to 10 or beyond, understand quantities (what happens if I have four apples and take two away?), sort and match activities, do simple jigsaw puzzles, draw themselves, their parents, a tree, a cat or a flower, have phonic awareness; familiarity with phonics and initial blending, vocabulary and rhymes, etc.

To prepare your children for the 4+ assessment, you must ensure they acquire the necessary social and cognitive skills in the first years of their lives. Sending them to a good nursery school with a balance of free play and more structured work on fine motor skills helps a lot.  You should also should read bedtime stories and encourage storytelling and communication at home (

The 7+ assessment, in which category our grade 2 would fall, is another high stakes competitive selection exam used by an increasing number of top schools in London for entry into Year 3. Just as in our grade 2, “the assessment deals primarily with Maths and English but in a number of schools there is a reasoning paper containing Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. The tests are usually in a written form but there can be verbal sections testing mental arithmetic, spelling, memory and dictation. There may also be manual and creative tasks to complete.  Successful (pupils) may be asked back for an interview: one-on-one chat with the Headmaster/ Headmistress and some group tasks”.

All manner of special classes, private and individual tutoring, etc are associated with priming students to successfully get through these assessments (

The point here is that while we, with our marginal resources and fairly decrepit education system, remain wedded to all manner of fanciful ideas about making the student body happy, others more fortunate than us by far are orientating themselves to become more competitive in the modern world. I am not claiming that we should of necessity embrace what others are doing. The intention here is for us to understand the scope of what is possible, and as I will attempt to show next week, where necessary adopt those practices we believe will be efficacious.