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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Expense of the Eleven PLus

“I hate multiple choice work. There is no room for working out.”

“I like working sums out.”

“Sometimes I just guess.”

If assessment is not done via a multiple choice test – then there must be other viable alternatives. One major problem is they may not all be as cheap and effective. A couple of invigilators opening a sealed packet of multiple choice questions, and then returning the packet to the examination board, can not be all that expensive. The papers then are processed and computer generated results are regurgitated with all the scores in rank order – showing the `Eleven Plus Pass or Fail’. Human emotion does not play a part.

Some parents have to resort to psychometric tests to augment eleven plus test results. If their child does not pass they then seek to use the evidence of a psychologist to try to secure a place. In a psychometric test a child is given a set of questions or tasks in a prescribed manner. The results are then compared with the norms of other people. The examiner (the psychologist) is not allowed to alter the questions, prompt answers or give clues to help. The tests measure intelligence – or aspects of ability.

A different type of assessment can be offered to try to find out how well a child will react to a range of situations. Will a child react well under pressure? Can the child rise to the occasion? Does the child have the ability to work in noisy conditions? Some parents have to make the decision whether their child would be happier at or near the top of a non selective school or languish near the bottom of a grammar school. Information from a professional could help decision making.

The present Eleven Plus tests are sometimes criticised because they seem to be testing what has been learnt and do not really reflect what the child is capable of learning in the future. Parents hope that the speed and the scope of the grammar school will stimulate their child to learn even faster in the future. Children could, for example, be taught something during the assessment – and then, immediately, be tested on this. A benefit of this type of assessment is that it would not need to be a really silly eleven plus verbal reasoning question.

Another method could be to assess the child through observation at school and at home and then try to draw conclusions about the potential of the child to flower in an academic environment. This could be difficult because no two homes or schools are alike. It may be, however, that the grammar school needs to know more about the child’s intellectual development than how the child behaves in certain situations.

Parents could also contribute to the eleven plus assessment if they were included in the equation. Parents, for example, could complete questionnaires about a child’s willingness to work and attitudes to key pre eleven plus exercises. Parents could evaluate the child willingness and desire for a grammar school education.

Any single one of the methods mentioned above must have drawbacks that far out weigh the present system of setting machine marked multiple choice tests. Most of the other methods would, however, be remarkably expensive to develop and sustain. We hear of grammar schools where there is extraordinary competition for every single place. On local authority tests around four thousand children each year. Four thousand bits of paper is a lot cheaper that four thousand interviews.

Utopia is quite simply far away.

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