Testing the arguments

As pathetic efforts to sensationalise a non-story and give it a bit of anti-SNP spin go, this article on Common Space is right up there with The Herald and The Scotsman. There is no great ‘revelation’ here. Professor Ellis herself expresses neither shock nor even surprise that parts of her recommendations were not accepted by the Scottish Government. It’s a consultation, FFS! The government isn’t under any obligation to accept any of the suggestions offered. And the implication that they should accept all recommendations is plainly ridiculous, as it’s entirely possible that the prescriptions might contradict one another.

So there were only four emails submitted as part of the consultation. So what? Evidently, large numbers of education ‘experts’ didn’t feel strongly enough about the issues to make a written submission. Or they made their submissions in another way. There is no necessary minimum number of written submissions. How could there be? How would the government go about securing that minimum number?

To say that “the government had already made up its mind on national testing” is simply a pejorative way of saying that the government had a policy. The grown-ups among us would expect that. It’s their job! Bill Boyd has a lot to say about the “evidence” against national testing. Did he submit that evidence as part of the consultation? Clearly he didn’t do so by email.

I freely acknowledge that this is an area of policy about which I had some doubts. I was not at all persuaded of the efficacy or utility of standardised testing. But I am no bigot. I was prepared to listen to both sides of the argument. I am aware that there are pros and cons to the concept and was hoping to see these explored in places such as Common Space. Instead I find this kind of entirely one-sided propagandising with considerably less focus on the issue than on attacking the SNP administration. To say that this is disappointing would be something of an understatement.

The blatant bias here and in the mainstream media was sufficient to make me question my initial reservations. As with other SNP policies that I was initially opposed to or at least unconvinced about – such as minimum alcohol pricing and the named person scheme – the fact that opposition to these seemed to be driven more by dogma and partisan politics than rational assessment encouraged me to more closely examine the arguments. In the case of standardised testing what I find is that, while the pros are generally reasonable arguments relating to the function and purpose, the cons tend to assume flaws and errors in application and management. The pros describe the use. The cons fret about possible misuse.

I am, therefore, drawn to the conclusion that there is nothing inherently bad about standardised testing. Certainly nothing to warrant the breathless hysteria of much of the commentary in this place. It’s all about how the tests are conducted and how the results are used. Standardised testing is merely a tool. Like any tool, it can do a lot of damage if not used well. But in the right hands, it can be of some benefit. My inclination is to give both the Scottish Government and the teaching profession the benefit of the doubt until we see standardised testing working in practice.

I am contemptuous of the notion of ‘magic’ solutions. But I am open to the idea that things might be made to work. And I am certainly not going to be dissuaded from a course of action by the kind of agenda-bound rhetoric being peddled by Common Space. If nothing else induced me to file this article in the folder labelled ‘PISH’, then the clincher was the reference to James McEnaney without pointing out his status as a Common Space contributor and anti-SNP polemicist. If that’s not dishonest then it is certainly very poor journalism.

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