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Friday, May 04, 2007

Test Items and Success

One of the problems we have when we look at test results is to believe that it is unlikely that intelligence will change. If a child has been at the same school with the same teacher and the same set of friends then the school environment will have been relatively stable. And if the child has been in the same home with the same parents and the same siblings then this too would suggest a degree of stability in intelligence.

Another problem we have is with the purpose of the test. If the tests are supposed to predict intellectual ability, and how well children will do at school in their GCSE and `A’ level examinations, we may also presume that the content of the test will not change too much.

So if the home and the school environments have not changed too much – and if the actual test has not altered too radically - then we have to consider just how likely it is that the eleven plus tests will actually predict future academic success.

If grammar schools were going to broaden their range of `A’ level subjects to cope with less academic subjects like woodwork and needlework then it would be fair to want to include items in the eleven plus tests where a child could be expected to shine. In many countries in the world, however, we hear of academic children who are separated from other children as the `big’ examinations approach.

So we are back with the problem of how reliable are the actual test items. How can we find out if the eleven plus tests are going to be reliable? The easy way is to give the same test twice. If the children score reasonably similar results then we can presume that the test is a reliable indicator. To achieve this, the identical test would need to be given to identical children under identical conditions. The same person would need to give the same instructions in the same tone of voice. The test would also need to be at the same time of day. If the second test was given much later on in the day then fatigue may have crept into the equation.

Suppose the first test was given early on a school morning – and the repeat test was offered just before home time – at the end of the day then it is likely that some children would behave differently. One child may be happy to do the test early in the morning but may have an afternoon activity in the early afternoon. This could cause lack of attention and effort.

Many years ago we can recall a wonderfully bright girl who did not do at all well on a reasoning paper. The night before the parents had argued. There had been blows and the police had been called. Father had been taken away by the police. Our engaging little girl simply did not do very well.

The architects of an eleven plus test could not have built a argument of this nature into the parameters of the test.

So at times the elements of the eleven plus tests that are looking at intelligence may be unreliable – and the tests may not actually find the true level of ability.

We therefore hope that school and the home environments remain as stable and supportive as possible. There is not much we can do about the actual questions on the test paper. We can only presume that they have not altered too radically. We hope too that the children have not had any catastrophic events that have altered their intelligence.

All we can do as parents and teachers is to try to help our children to be as ready as possible for the eleven plus examinations.

Words like: `The honour and the future of the family lie in your hands’ may be a little too strong for a child to try to deal with as he or she walks into the examination room. Some children may prefer to hear: “Do your best, and go in peace.”

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