Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Do you remember the "Friday Test" or

the "weekly tests"?
I am not sure when they stopped having them in schools but my infant and primary school years were marked out by regular "tests".  On Friday mornings you were given ten mental arithmetic problems, five written arithmetic problems, ten spelling words to write down, five reading comprehension questions, a short piece of "dictation" and a "composition" to do. Some weeks there would be history or geography or nature science. At the end of each term there would be all of those things plus handwriting and physical education.
We all did those things. It was part of school life. A few of us came under some pressure. I was expected to get full marks (and mostly managed it) in the academic subjects.  I had to make up for my complete failure in handwriting and physical education.
At the end of primary school we all did something called the Progress Certificate (something akin to the old 11+ in England) and then headed off to high school or, in rural schools, the Public Examination Board stream - or there was the technical high school or Area School stream for the less academically inclined. There we were faced with the "Intermediate", "Leaving" and "Leaving Honours". Not any more.
They stopped testing at all for a while. It was considered to be harmful. Then the government decided they needed to know more about what was going on in schools so they introduced NAPLAN - nationwide testing of children in the third, fifth, seventh and ninth years of school. NAPLAN is said to be "controversial". Teachers are said to "teach to the test". It has produced "league tables". The worth of a teacher is, in the eyes of many, a reflection of his or her NAPLAN results.
Worse than that, according to some, is the fact that children get stressed by the thought of doing these tests. They suffer sleeplessness and vomiting. They feel inferior if their results do not measure up to those of their classmates. Entire schools are said to suffer when their results are below the national average. Children are not, apparently, allowed to "fail" any more. It is, apparently, not good for them. They suffer psychological damage.
I had children who failed when I was teaching. Perhaps I failed to teach them. Some of them were lazy. Perhaps I failed to motivate them. There were some who were not as able as others. Perhaps I should have made them more able or lowered the standard just for them. There were a few tears but they almost always set about trying again with encouragement from me and their classmates.
At the end of every term I had to write reports for the parents. Not everyone had passed in everything, one child had barely scraped through most things and failed at arithmetic. Every single one of them had excelled at something. The boy who had barely scraped through was the self-appointed "bin monitor". At the end of every day he would, without being asked, check the classroom floor and empty the waste paper basket into the big bin on the other side of the schoolyard. If for any reason he could not do it he would remind someone else to do it.  I remember writing "M.... is helpful and reliable..."
His father came in on "Parents' Day" and asked me about his progress and I had to explain we had considered suggesting he repeat the year but his willingness to persist with his self-appointed task suggested he could make it through the next year with some extra help. His father nodded and then said with a wry smile,
        "But he's a good kid isn't he?"
 He was and he is probably a good adult too. I wonder though what he would be like if he been "passed" in arithmetic.

No comments: