Exam stress is higher overseas

U.S. students take lots of tests, but exam stakes are higher overseas, reports NPR.

In England, 16-year-olds take “15 or 20 substantial examinations” as part of a test deciding whether they’ll finish high school, says Dylan Wiliam, a professor emeritus of educational assessment at the University of London.

For those who do well and go on, they get two more years of high school. And each of those years ends with another big round of tests, saving the worst for last.

“And your grades on those examinations will determine which universities you’re offered places at,” Wiliam says.

Grades don’t matter. It’s all about the tests.

Finland has no standardized exams — until the end of high school, when students spend 40 hours taking a half-dozen daylong exams. Students know their futures depend on doing well on the exam, says Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Japanese students have to take entrance exams to get into an academic high school.

 “It’s a lot of pressure,” says Akihiko Takahashi, an associate professor of math education at DePaul University who knows the Japanese testing system well. “If you do not pass exam, you cannot go anywhere, even high school.”

Japanese (and Finnish) universities also give their own entrance exams.

Around the world, except for the U.S., high school grades, teachers’ recommendations, extracurriculars and essays don’t determine college admissions, says Wiliam. “Basically, it’s how well you do on those exams.”

Testing plus school inspections?

The English use school inspectors as well as centralized testing to provide feedback to principals, inform parents and identify “serious weakness,” writes Iftikhar Hussain in Education Next.

Inspectors visit schools once in three to six years. They observe classes, interview school leaders, examine students’ work and talk to students and parents. In addition, students take a national test at age 7, 11, 14, and 16.

From 2006 to 2009, 13 percent of schools were rated Outstanding, 48 percent Good and 33 percent were Satisfactory. Six percent failed: 4.5 percent were moderate fails and 1.5 percent required “special measures.”

Schools that receive a moderate fail rating are subject to additional inspections, with an implicit threat of a downgrade to the severe fail category if inspectors judge improvements to be inadequate. Schools that receive the severe fail rating may experience more dramatic consequences: these can include changes in the school leadership team and the school’s governing board, increased resources, as well as increased oversight from the inspectors.

Inspector ratings are correlated with student- and parent-reported measures of school quality, even after controlling for test-score results and other school characteristics, writes Hussain.

Fail ratings lead to test score improvements that are especially large for the lowest-scoring students, Hussain finds.  “These results are consistent with the view that children of low-income parents, arguably the least vocal in holding teachers accountable, benefit the most from inspections.”

Some U.S. education reformers see school inspectors as a way to hold schools accountable without relying exclusively on test scores.

UK study: Female teachers give boys lower grades

At least in Britain, female teachers mark boys more harshly than outside examiners, according to a London School of Economics study.

Expecting lower grades from female teachers, boys worked less in their classes, the study found. Girls think — incorrectly — that male teachers will favor them and work harder for them.

“Students from low-income families and minority ethnic backgrounds do not believe in systematic teacher biases,” researchers reported. They found no evidence of grading bias based on socioeconomic or minority status.

On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service

Evaluating schools based on test scores satisfies few people. There’s another way, writes Ed Sector’s Craig Jerald in On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service. In England, school inspectors visit each school.

The process is thorough and rigorous: “[I]nspectors observe classroom lessons, analyze student work, speak with students and staff members, examine school records, and scrutinize the results of surveys administered to parents and students,” he notes.

A school inspectorate could work in the U.S., Jerald argues.

Singapore parents push math

U.S. students are below average in math skills, according to PISA, while Asian countries excel. Parents’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors make a difference, concludes a study of parents in the U.S., England and top-scoring Singapore.  From Curriculum Matters:

Parents in Singapore are far more likely than those in the United States and England to engage a math tutor to help their child, they’re more likely to get assistance from teachers and others in how to help their child, and their children more often take part in math competitions and math/science camps.

. . .  75 percent of Singapore parents said it’s important to provide math learning opportunities outside the school curriculum, compared with 53 percent in the U.S. and 49 percent in England.

Compared to Singapore parents, U.S. parents are much more confident they can help their children in math, noted the study, which was conducted by Eduventures for Raytheon. “Whether this U.S. confidence is well-placed is hard to say, but the report suggests that one explanation may be that the middle school math curriculum is more advanced in Singapore than in the United States.”

England revives 'real' school sports

England’s new Tory-led coalition government wants to bring back competitive school sports, reports the Daily Mail.

“Sport – whether you win or lose – teaches young people great lessons for life. It encourages teamwork, dedication and striving to be the best that you can be,” said Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

. . . Schools will be expected to host in-house Olympic-style sports days so that children of all abilities have the opportunity to compete and join teams.

Most students don’t compete in sports, even within schools.

In one directive to schools during the last Labour government, schools were encouraged to replace competitive races with “problem-solving” exercises for their sports days.

Teams were also encouraged to perform tasks in rotation rather than compete directly with each other.

England is hosting the 2012 Olympics, which the government hopes will spur interest in sports. National Lottery money will fund the sports initiative.

And you think U.S. rules are crazy . . .

In Wiltshire, England, school staff left a five-year-old boy stranded in a tree for 45 minutes because the school’s “health and safety policy” barred them from helping him down. When a woman passing by rescued the boy and returned him to class, she was reported to the police for trespassing.

The head teacher said the staff followed the policy to “observe from a distance” so the child would not get “distracted and fall.”

Kim Barrett, 38, said the boy couldn’t have been seen from the school building. When she returned him, nobody seemed to know he’d never come in from recess.  She spotted the boy sitting on a branch more than six feet high overhanging the sidewalk.

The head teacher says Barrett was “verbally aggressive” to a school staffer when she charged the boy had been abandoned. Perhaps she was.

During a fire drill at an English middle school in Worcester, students watched a gunman kill a teacher. The mock shooting was supposed to be a science lesson “to teach Year 8 pupils how to investigate, collect facts and analyse evidence.” The headmaster apologized, suggesting that students wouldn’t have been so upset if the fake victim had been a less popular teacher.

New York Magazine asks: “They couldn’t have just pretended to lose the class rabbit or something?”

Big Brother is watching Brits

England’s problem families will be monitored 24 hours a day via government-operated TV cameras in their homes. Some will be forced to move to “sin bin” housing.

Children’s Secretary Ed Balls wants funding to monitor 20,000 “chaotic” families. The Daily Express reports:

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

. . . Sin bin projects operate in half of council areas already but Mr Balls wants every local authority to fund them.

Parents who resist may lose their government-owned housing and benefits or risk losing custody of their children.

Britons call these “Shameless” families after a popular TV show depicting a dysfunctional family — Mom’s gone and Dad’s an alcoholic — living in public housing.

Orwellian, writes Mark Steyn, who blames social decay in Britain, at least in part, on “the nanny state’s assumption of all adult responsibilities.”