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Monday, June 28, 2010

An Eleven Plus Discussion

How valid are the questions taken from the more popular eleven plus papers? If children work from papers by the `people who set the examination’ are these going to be as useful as marks obtained on papers from other sources? It must be possible, for example, to find a correlation between marks on selection test and the chances of one of the top four football teams landing up in the top four again.

An eleven plus paper is only valid if it measures what it is supposed to measure. Eleven plus papers, however, do not set out to measure intelligence or personality. Being bright, however, as well as being verbally able, must help with some tests.

We recall fondly one boy who could not cope with one of the highly promoted eleven plus papers. His mother was horrified and attacked the eleven plus system. Her child had just come out of an inner city school and was totally unready to tackle eleven plus work. With six months to the examination the boy had reached Level 3A in his English and mathematics. His mum took the trouble to tell us, in a triumphant phone call, that her son had passed his eleven plus and was in grammar school.

Did this mean that the eleven plus paper, from the highly reputable source, was neither valid nor reliable? Did the abject failure of the boy the first time round, on an unseen paper, without the benefit of any preliminary eleven plus work, mean that he was deemed to be non selective? In a situation like this parents can not read too much into the value and the truthfulness of eleven plus papers if the papers can not describe true ability and prowess.

We know, for example, that applicants for the army – and in particular Sandhurst – have to pass rigorous selection tests. A selection test looks at more than `reasoning’ ability as it must also select bright young men and women who will do well in fields like engineering, becoming pilots or corporate management.

Would there be any use in the eleven plus being broadened to look at leadership qualities? Does a grammar school child need to be able to lead and be self sufficient and commanding? There must be many examples of children who have coped admirably with life at grammar school and beyond who would not dream of trying to lead a platoon into battle.

There could be a case for some parents to be able to argue that a reasoning test should not necessarily correlate with success in school subjects. After all there must be many cases where complex psychological factors lead a person to being able to succeed in later life without the benefit of grammar school education.

Selecting just one criteria, such as verbal reasoning, for measuring future academic success seems to be suspect. There must be a very strong correlation between the ability to do well on a verbal reasoning paper and being able to do well at a grammar school. What we can not tell, however, is how many children who are equally bright in other spheres are swept away and consigned to a life as being `non selective’.

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