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Teaching to the test

Discussion in 'Heads of department' started by tyler durden, May 22, 2017.

  1. tyler durden

    tyler durden New commenter

    I am a new (to this school) HoD and I am having an interesting time with my staff around the concept of assessment. The end of topic assessments (written tests) have remained the same for a while and I am concerned about staff 'teaching to the test'.

    I've had a number of chats with my teachers along the lines of 'Yes, well we were at the end of the unit and then I looked at the test and realised I'd skipped over topic X pretty quickly so once I saw it was in there I went over it in more detail with the class before they sat the paper".

    This concerns me as it makes me wonder if all staff are covering what they should be? I am also now concerned about how accurate these assessments are.

    I plan to move to a system of unseen papers (by staff or students) moving forwards but a couple of teachers are very unhappy about this.

  2. CheeseMongler

    CheeseMongler Lead commenter

    I think it depends on how clear the content of each topic is. If teachers are saying,
    then I'd be questioning whether the scheme of work was clear enough in its expectations. From my own experience, I've found it a nightmare when in a new department and trying to figure out what needs to be covered in each topic when the schemes are weak (or non existent). The fact that your staff are reflecting on how well they've covered topics and want to make sure that their students are fully prepared for tests sounds like a positive to me.
    This is all assuming that you're referring to KS3 - if it's KS4 then there are exam specifications to guide me as to what I need to cover. If it is KS3 though, I really wouldn't be concerned about how accurate the assessments are... I don't think they ever are.
  3. tosh740

    tosh740 New commenter

    I can see why staff may be unhappy, unseen papers would make me nervous at KS3. It could look like you don't trust your team and want to catch them out. This also means new assessments every year leading to workload issues. A lot depends on what may be done with the data - will the results be used for performance management and pay awards? This may be making staff nervous and feeling vulnerable. Starting with moderation of actual marking and looking at the demands of the new specs may be a better approach. Marking the assessments together as part of a meeting would allow a discussion to develop on which groups did better on what type of questions, the issue of 'teaching to the test' and preparing students for external exams may well develop naturally. It sounds like you know that the assessment material needs revamping so I would make that a department focus.
    sabrinakat likes this.
  4. Evertonian

    Evertonian New commenter

    Yeah I have to say I wouldn't be keen on keeping staff in the dark...either you need a very detailed SoW (which book checks could show up) or sometimes I think it's reasonable to check what's on a test...so much is open to interpretation. Obviously if staff give the questions away or only teach the ones on the paper that's a worry but personally I wouldn't deal with it by keeping them in the dark. Plus if it was done to me I'd be tempted to lash out at the tests...and as HoD would never dream of trying to rewrite them every year!
  5. pianopete

    pianopete Occasional commenter

    I personally don't think there's anything wrong with the leaders within a department setting "unseen" tests. We do it with some of our KS3 exams. With Shakespeare, for example, we list some key scenes in the play from which an extract will be collected. With unseen "genre" style exams we do keep these under wraps but are obviously clear about mark schemes, send out a mock for styles of questions etc. Regarding the workload, we use one year's exam as the next year's mock/sample so that it isn't too onerous. Team are happy with this as we want to ensure students have the knowledge to tackle multiple styles of questions. Our SoW are clear about the knowledge to be taught.
    wanet and tb9605 like this.
  6. particlezoo

    particlezoo New commenter

    I had a similar issue with mock exams, despite instructions not to, many of my staff told the students what would and wouldn't be on the paper. I'm quite lucky because we have two types of assessment, end of topic tests and formal assessments in specific weeks. I create the formal assessments and do so unseen from the other members of my department but leave the end of topic ones alone. It works quite well as a compromise and no one has had a problem yet.
  7. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    The last place I worked in did Unseen Tests for the end of unit assessment (not sure why I've capitalised, but there you go). It was generally accepted without too much fuss, but we'd also usually give the teachers a bit of a heads up about what might be in there (much like pianopete's suggestion). So if, for example, the test was on Romeo and Juliet, we'd tell them that the exam might be on the themes of love, violence, fate or deception (when it was on deception) so they could guide their students on how to direct their revision. (We'd often give bottom set teachers an even shorter list - differentiation by teacher knowledge!) If anyone grumbled, we just blamed the new system on an Assistant Principal!

    Mind you, as I was 2nd and was nearly always the person who ended up writing them, I have to agree with Evertonian that it was a pain in the ****. Pianopete's idea about keeping the previous year's exam as the mock for the following year is fine as long as the curriculum doesn't change... again!

    However, I would question why you even need these, especially at KS3. Sure, the students do need to get into the habit of revising, but surely just one end of year exam is enough for Year 7-8? Wouldn't assessments based on (internally moderated) classwork do for KS3?
  8. koopatroopa

    koopatroopa Senior commenter

    What is the purpose of the assessment? Once you have worked out what you want to achieve, you should be able to work out which form of testing is most appropriate.
  9. binaryhex

    binaryhex Lead commenter

    There are benefits to both systems, so why not use both systems?

    Praise your staff for preparing students so thoroughly for an upcoming seen test but then sell them the idea that they all have to prepare for unseen tests too. Set them a short straightforward unseen test at the end of each half term or at the end of term to demo there is nothing to be feared, and move on from there. If there is a wide range between marks between seen and unseen tests, it will give you some data to have a conversation in a meeting.
    wanet likes this.
  10. Robfreeman

    Robfreeman Occasional commenter

    So a
    Im an occasional poster on TES these days but noticed this i needed to answer i apologise if these may seem harsh but its an alternative view to your comments.
    1. I am new in post and notice some issues and feel that to show authority i must make changes - You have identified the issues however rather than say right complete change, if you do this slowly and introduce the idea to your department you could make it feel like the department has some ownership over this issue and make them feel trusted rather than you not trusting them which you risk this could be changed positively. Remember you are half way through the year it is sometimes better to look at trying things and aiming to correct the next cohort rather than the current unless the issues are major.

    2. You have a scheme of work the teacher has taught it but then realised that one lesson is assessed in more depth compared to others. This deserves praise as the teacher is realising the limitations of their teaching order and the students learning.This may be because your scheme of work is lacking depth or your SOW may have too much depth and the test is focusing on one specific area more than others.

    3. Teachers arent machines all staff will cover things in different ways and to different levels. In an ideal world that wouldn't be so. However the teacher actually has covered it but in order for the students not to be demotivated by the test has decided to focus on a core area.

    4. Thats just saying hey i dont trust you. I would highly recommend not doing that course of action. You will demotivate and stress your department. You will be putting up barriers between yourself and the teachers. Yes you must lead but you must also remember that everyone has an ego i know if unknown internal tests were being brought in no matter how you phrased it i would feel distrusted. Also what if people do the SOW at different rates, your unseen papers may get into the hands of others and give an unfair advantage.

    P.s im writing this as a bog standard teacher im not a HoD

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