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Saturday, June 18, 2011

On-Line Assessments and the Eleven Plus

If on-line assessments are going to change how tests are administered, then is it possible that we may need to change what is being assessed?

Working with a pencil and a paper is a very traditional method of recording and creating in education. How many children have the words to be able to describe a dragon in full flight – but there may well be some children who have the ability to draw the dragon. There could even be some children with the ability to use a paint package on the computer to bring out the essence of an upset dragon in full flight!

One way round the problem of the eleven plus taking place on a specified day and a preset time is that some children may not be feeling well or there could be a problem at home or something that could possibly affect performance in the vitally important examination. The examination authorities may consider an on-line eleven plus solution where the assessment is continuous. The child would sit four or five eleven plus tests which could all add to a cumulative eleven plus score. Of course there would be logistical problems associated with the test – but think how parents would feel as they were offered the results in an open and uncomplicated manner. A traffic light system could be used – Red, Orange and Green. Parents could be offered pretty yet informative graphs.

Parent would naturally fear changing from pen and paper to on-line continuous assessment. We could look back in history. How did the mothers and fathers of children being educated by monks back in the fifteen hundreds feel as their children were taught by books hot from the Gutenburg presses? Before Gutenberg many children were taught from book painstakingly transcribed by monks. There is a long gap and many years between 1436 and 2011 – but we are still using methods that may already be outdated.

We all know we have different vocabularies when we are talking to members of the family, colleagues in business and long lost friends. Our children too have a vocabulary used with teachers at school, with their parents and with friends. The internet and the applications they meet on the net must be offering a vocabulary that is very different from any books provided by loving parents or teachers at school. The eleven plus too offers a new vocabulary – along with pressures of tests, different publishers and some remarkably unimaginative questions.

Parents may be very aware of this as they listen to their child responding to questions. Could my child be actually dumbing down the answers so that I will understand what he or she is trying to say? Take a group of three or four children in the car on a journey to school and you will hear and see a different personality to your child. The repartee may be sharper, the tongue a little more agile and, possibly, less of a defensive tone in the voice. (Peace at last. Mum and Dad are not in my ear all day telling me how important it is to pass the examination! They can’t moan at me when my friends are in the car.)

Is there then a place for assumptions about the eleven plus to be challenged? Do the rather traditional mathematics and verbal reasoning questions actually reflect how children think and react today? Revolution not evolution may be needed!

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