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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Who deserves the eleven plus place?

Suppose two children have reached remarkably similar scores – and there is only one more place left in the grammar school.

In the eyes of the decision makers both girls are equally bright, they are talented, studious and outgoing. Both girls are highly recommended by their schools – and the head teachers have told both sets of parents that their girls deserve a place in the local grammar school.

Both girls score the same score on the mathematics paper. There is only one mark difference on the reasoning papers.

The grammar school the girls are applying for specialises in mathematics and is rated highly in the county. Good numbers of pupils reach the top universities. The staff at the school are stable and the Head Teacher has been at the school for some years.

The girl who scored one mark less is very good at science. She loves anything to do with experiments and reads books about science for pleasure. She has a wide range of kits for conducting experiments. She once set out to learn the periodic table for fun.

The other girl is outstanding at dance and music. Her whole life is made up of attending dance and music classes. She sings in the local church choir and has already achieved Grade 5 on her piano. She took part in the two previous pantomimes at the local theatre where she demonstrated her talents in singing and dancing.

What can we use as a basis for making the decision about which girl deserves a place? Surely both girls have such strengths and abilities that the decision should not rest on the difference of just one mark. Would it not be fairer to simply toss a coin?

What we are looking at is probably no more than one mistake on one of the papers. If we flipped coin we would have a 50% chance of making the correct choice and a 50% chance of denying the other girl a place.

This scenario does seem to point for the need for test scores to be part of the selection process – and not the sole criterion.

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