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Repeated testing lowers pupils' motivation

Press release issued: 28 November 2002

Media release
Repeated testing lowers pupils' motivation

Clear evidence of the detrimental effect of repeated testing in schools on pupils' motivation for learning is spelt out in a policy document produced by the Assessment Reform Group. The document, aimed at policy-makers in government and its agencies, bases its findings on a recent review of the impact of repeated testing on school children, written by Professor Wynne Harlen OBE and Dr Ruth Deakin Crick from Bristol University's Graduate School of Education.

The review revealed that repeated testing lowers pupils' self-esteem, which sets up a downward spiral of lower motivation, less effort and even lower results in the tests. There are two categories of children particularly discouraged by testing - girls and low-achievers. The review also suggests that repeated testing is a serious waste of resources.

Other detrimental effects are that pupils see the goals of education in terms of passing tests rather than developing an understanding about what they are learning, and that they judge themselves and others by their test results. A consequence is that the gap between the lower and higher achieving pupils is widened.

All this directly conflicts with the Government's aim to promote life-long learning. It also calls into question the validity of league tables based on test results, since the measurement of a school's performance is distorted by practice tests and the detrimental effect that repeated testing has on pupils.

Professor Harlen, a member of the Assessment Reform Group, said: "We acknowledge that some testing is necessary, but it is important to recognise that it can be implemented in less damaging ways. While the review identified the effects of testing, we have now put together a policy document which highlights the positive actions that can be taken by teachers, inspectors and national and local policy-makers, to avoid the more negative aspects of testing."

Amongst the positive actions recommended in the policy document to counter the negative effects of testing is the suggestion that teachers should make fewer comparisons of pupils' grades, encouraging them to value effort and a wide range of attainments. It further recommends that inspectors should clearly acknowledge that tests are only a partial indication of a school's success, and that they should recognise the extent to which a school has minimised the negative impacts of testing.

Finally, the document strongly advocates that policy makers should be more aware of the true costs of testing, in terms of teaching time, practice tests and marking, and should therefore develop a broader range of indicators to evaluate the performance of schools.

The policy document is being launched on 28 November at the Nuffield Foundation, who funded the policy document and part-funded the original review, along with the EPPI-Centre. The launch will be introduced by David Hargreaves. Ken Boston, the new Chief Executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will also be present.

The Assessment Reform Group's policy document will be launched at 5.30 pm on 28 November at the Nuffield Foundation, 28 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3JS. The press are welcome to attend. Members of ARG and the authors of the review will be available for interview at the Nuffield Foundation between 11 am and 3 pm.

The Assessment Reform Group aims to ensure that public policy at all levels takes account of relevant research in assessment practice. In pursuit of this aim the main targets for the Group's activity are policy-makers in government and its agencies.

Bristol University's Graduate School of Education was the only Education Department in the UK to be graded 5* in the recent independent assessment of research quality in higher education. This, the highest award given, recognises the department as having world-class status in research.

The Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust that supports research to advance social well being.

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Copyright: 2002 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Thursday, 28-Nov-2002 10:11:56 GMT

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