Scores, Scores, Scores
The delusional, paranoiac obsession with scores and numbers in educational dialogue, and their use by educators who should know better, constantly diverts attention from the real issues. We have all been guilty of using statements like:- “Finland has the best system in the world, because it topped the PISA tests in 2009.” “USA has a poor system of schooling. It ran 27th on the PISA tests.” “Australia and New Zealand are in the top ten of the best school systems in the world.” “Asia’s cram schools are raising the stakes.” What is this system of ranking that has led us to the use of such inanities?
PISA is a Programme for International Student Assessment, operating under the auspices of OECD. It tests only 15 year-olds [considered to be school leavers] in a number of countries to see how well-equipped they might be to face the world at large. Although the PISA is only able to test the testables in reading, mathematics and problem solving, it has no link to any school curriculum and provides great fun for the measurement nerds at OECD, Paris. It is claimed to be “…a powerful tool to shape government’s policy making.” Heaven knows why. Thus far, it has created chaos and panic amongst those in countries who don’t understand what it is. It tested reading in 2000; mathematics in 2003; science in 2006; reading again in 2009. For 2012 some 15 year-olds are being randomly selected from about 30 countries to test mathematics and try an optional computer-based assessment of mathematics and reading. PISA carries more punch than it deserves. For curriculum use and for comparative standards, its punch would not explode a paper bag.
It is influential, however. Countries, states and authorities around the world have gone numbers-mad to copy its impetuous ardour:- giving tests invented by local non-school measurers, assigning numbers as scores to each participant, averaging the numbers to declare some ridiculously impossible assessments of teachers, principals, schools and systems; publishing results as if they carried some sort of evaluation of what was going on in regard to teacher competencies, school performance, principals’ curriculum leadership and systems’ organisation.
In Australia, these unreliable, comparative number-scores are used as the basis for serious but totally inaccurate descriptions of pupils, schools, of teachers, of principals; have given rise to an amazing array of gimmickry; enhanced the coffers of private schooling; and enriched the coffers of publishers. Nothing much else. They have been used to describe ‘best’ schools and ‘worst’ schools, ‘good’ teachers and ‘bad’ teachers. Some newspapers have been cruel, with commentators pontificating on standards of schooling. the needs for this and that, They have even been used to describe countries as providing outstanding educational services because of success in this test, that is unfamiliar to most commentators and has yet to be extensively examined as a reliable device for what it says it does. The Australian Gratten Institute, founded in the same year as NAPLAN, established to advise governments on policy matters, contributes to the heresy by its reliance on numbers to make judgements. It’s report: “Catching Up: Learning from the Best School Systems in East Asia”
where after-school tutoring to raise test scores is rife, bases it’s contents on numbers scored. [http://www.saveourschools.com.au
] “The report is seriously deficient and one-sided.” says Trevor Cobbald. One hopes that policy-makers will consult with humanity-biased commentators and the education community before any serious decisions are taken as a consequence of this report.
And all this malarchy costs over $540million with more to come to prop-up the [officially] failed NAPLAN testing scheme!
The reliance and over-use of Arabic numerals for educational purposes is catastrophic. Measurers are people who dwell on the outskirts of educational activities and who greatly exaggerate the power of number scores. They should get back in their box with their childish toys. Number is number. When its hieroglyphics are used for descriptive purposes, scores and marks and numbers are inappropriate. Used for serious evaluation of education’s human effort as they are during the present testing pandemic, the use is satanic.
[Marion Brady comments: “Future historians...are going to shake their heads in disbelief. They’ll wonder how, in a single generation...democracy has dismantled its engine.”]