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A challenge was made to John O’Dowd, Northern Ireland’s education minister to refute his error borne out of reliance on so-called international evidence provided by OECD Pisa data. The Minister has failed to respond. The minister is wrong and remains so.
The letter above was published in the Belfast Newsletter on Friday, November 6th, 2015.
When Sinn Fein education minister John O’Dowd deliberately used the term “dodgy dossier” in respect of transfer testing during Private Members Business in the Assembly on Tuesday, he reversed the truth.
The minister cited international evidence, based on Pisa scores, that selective education fails children.
Astoundingly not one of the unionist politicians present challenged the minister on the facts.
In a peer-reviewed analysis of that evidence, Professor Svend Kreiner wrote of OECD Pisa:
“Most people don’t know that half of the students taking part in the research do not respond to any reading items at all. Despite that, Pisa assigns reading scores to these children.”
In short, Pisa admit that they don’t measure curriculur content or attainment.
Therefore they cannot make an assessment on selective education systems.
Do the politicians who failed to tackle Mr O’Dowd or those schools participating in OECD Pisa not understand that half of the children in the minister’s research were assigned scores for tests they didn’t even sit?
Does anyone in Northern Ireland know of any pupil receiving an AQE or GL Assessment score without taking a test?
With children about to sit the first transfer test tomorrow, it is a pity that those assigned with opposition to the minister’s ideological campaign agaist selection did not challenge him on Tuesday.
If those politicians and their advisors won’t apologise for wrongly traducing the current transfer system, Mr O’Dowd should, on their collective behalf, make clear that it was he who was quoting from a dodgy dossier.
Parental Alliance for Choice in Education, Antrim
The solution to the single test issue for grammar schools is as clear as it is simple: how defensible is the practice of using two tests to determine grammar school entry?
In Northern Ireland, grammar schools usually admit pupils using one of two tests: the vast majority of “state” grammar schools use the AQE test to select pupils, and the vast majority of Catholic grammar schools use the GL test. A small number of schools engage in a process which has come to be called “dualling,” whereby pupils who have taken either the AQE test or the GL test (or both) are considered eligible for entry. Moreover, the algorithm for assigning children to a single score scale using scores from these very different tests (see below) is shrouded in mystery. Despite its importance to parents applying to the school, I can find no such algorithm on the website of any “dualling” school. However the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) does caution against misuse stating “Care should be taken when considering the change in percentile rank of one test-taker on different occasions or on different tests” See http://www.nfer.ac.uk/research/centre-for-assessment/standardised-scores-and-percentile-ranks.cfm
In what follows, I argue, on behalf of test-takers that “dualling” is unlikely to be defensible. Given the recent entry of the Presbyterian Church in Ballymena into this debate, it will be useful to frame the case that “dualling” is unlikely to be defensible using the Church’s concern that testing only adds to the “stress already inherent in moving from primary to post-primary school.” My central preoccupation will be the radically differing approaches to test anxiety taken by the AQE and GL tests.
The Transfer Test, abolished by Direct Rule ministers and Sinn Fein when that Party took up the education portfolio, consisted of two tests, each of one hour duration, taken on separate days and assessing mathematics, English and science. Children, who might, for example, have had a sleepless night before taking Transfer Test 1, had the opportunity to improve their score on the second test. In these circumstances, a sleepless night might only impact adversely on one of the two assessments. Moreover, by holding the tests on different days, children, through access to their teachers in the period between tests, had opportunities to address shortcomings in their knowledge and skills which might have come to light in Transfer Test 1, in time for Transfer Test 2. I will now argue that while the AQE test, by design, seeks to reduce levels of test anxiety below those associated with the Transfer Test, the GL test represents a backward step in addressing test anxiety when compared with the Transfer Test.
GL’s guidance literature reveals that children are involved in almost two hours of testing (with a comfort break in the middle) at one sitting. (It should be noted no GCSE examination – taken by much older pupils – exceeds 90 minutes.) In the GL framework there is no opportunity to address shortcomings between test occasions because the assessment in its entirety takes place on one day. A sleepless night has the potential to impact adversely on all aspects of the child’s test performance. Added to this, the children have to carefully transfer each of their answers to a multiple-choice grid because the GL test is marked by “optical mark recognition” software.
While the GL test has greater potential for stress and anxiety than its predecessor, the AQE test was designed to improve on the Transfer Test in this respect. The AQE test involves three one hour tests and seeks to improve on the Transfer Test’s two-test structure in respect of test anxiety. The first and second tests are separated by a fortnight, and test three is taken one week after test two. There is plenty of opportunity to address misconceptions with one’s teacher as one goes from test to test. The impact of a sleepless night is greatly reduced because the child’s best scores on two of the three tests are used to compute his or her published score. The process discards the child’s lowest score. Finally, children simply write their answers (and rough work) on the test paper, with the need to transfer each answer to a grid obviated entirely.
Why should it matter that one test (GL) has decreased the number of test occasions previously available under the Transfer Test, while the other (AQE) has moved to increase this number? Why has AQE gone to such lengths to reduce the potential for test anxiety to levels below those associated with the Transfer Test? If it is accepted that the AQE and GL tests differ significantly in respect of their approach to test anxiety, what implication could this have for the practice of “dualling”?
The answer is that differences in respect of test anxiety have significant measurement implications. Even for older test-takers, there is a well-established correlation (on a scale from -1 to +1) of approximately -0.4 between test score and test anxiety (see Wildemuth (1977): Test anxiety: An extensive bibliography (ERIC/TM Rep. 64). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service).
Questions about the defensibility of “dualling” arise because the two tests used to assign children to a single rank order, measure differently as a consequence of their differing approach to test anxiety. The Ballymena Presbytery is right to emphasise the centrality of minimising pupil stress. This has been at the heart of the AQE project since its inception. Any effective “dualling” algorithm must take account of the differing approaches of the AQE and GL assessments to test anxiety. Because no such algorithm exists, “dualling” can play no role in attempts to address the concerns raised by the Presbytery. The solution is as clear as it is simple: parents must demand that all grammar schools in Northern Ireland adopt the same selection test.
Chairman, The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education
The above article was published by The Ballymena Guardian in response to a concern expressed by the Ballymena Presbytery on Thursday October 2nd, 2014 Read it here http://www.ballymenaguardian.co.uk/articles/news/42455/presbyterys-grave-concern-over-school-tests/
Questions will arise from parents considering the reduction of anxiety concern for their children when contemplating using “dualling”
11-plus, 11-plus and admission procedure, academic selection at 11, AQE, AQE test results, Education Minister, GL Assessment, GL Assessment test results, Grammar Schools, Parental Alliance for Choice in Education, quintiles, scores, selection at 11, Standardised Age Scores, unregulated 11-plus tests
Good luck to all the pupils waiting for their transfer test results. The children and their parents/guardians are to be commended for their efforts. The children, not least, for being willing to have their numeracy and literacy skills tested and excerising their right to compete for a place in a grammar school. The parents/guardians for supporting the efforts of those schools determined to deliver the equality of opportunity that a transfer test affords. 2013 is the forth year that the “unregulated” tests have been organised and delivered to the highest of standards and it is testament to those who have resisted the determination of an Education Minister hellbound on removing parental choice for a grammar school education to match the needs of their children.
It is important when the results are known not to fall into the annual trap generated by opponents of selection by stressing over the marks or grades (these always remove information and should not ever be compared to the old CCEA grading system) obtained by the pupil. Expect and resist the rumour mill but instead arm yourself with the knowledge that until the admissions process is completed no one can issue a guarantee of a place at any grammar school. The marks/grades from previous years may give a reasonable indication of a school’s 2013 intake but do not be put off in listing a preference because of something someone has told you “on good authority” or “inside information”. Remember that Open Enrolment has resulted in about 42% of post-primary pupils getting a place in a grammar school.
In making a selection of preferences it is important to take into consideration future plans for the schools. There is little benefit in choosing a school which in a short period will no longer be a grammar school. The school is unlikely to inform you of their change in direction, after all they are competing for your child and relying on their marketing efforts. Your child will not benefit in the long run. Forty plus years of research evidence and data on attainment shows that mixed ability schools generally produce lower attainments at GCSE and A-Level.
Add to that the negative impact of the revised curriculum and the entitlement framework and the Education Minister's insistence in breaking parity on examinations with England and this year's cohort of parents making vital decisions on behalf of their children must be sure of their choices.
Specific information on schools will follow
Last December The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education published an article highlighting the costs of the Education And Skills Authority (ESA). https://paceni.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/esa-the-real-costs/
On Saturday November 6th, 2010 the Irish News ran the front page headline;
Two million pounds is a mere fraction of the waste incurred by this stealthy body. No use by Simon Doyle, the Irish News Education Correspondent of the term “double-jobber” to describe Gavin Boyd the ESAIT chief executive and chief executive of the problem ridden exams board, CCEA.
Frank Bunting northern secretary of the teachers union INTO rushed in to create a heirarchy of losers.
” Yes it’s a waste of money but the bigger waste of money is that ESA has not yet been established…Everyone is a loser.”
Frank Bunting INTO
Perhaps Frank has forgotten his script to the Stormont Education Committee from March 25, 2009 when he said;
“in the interests of efficiency, establishing the ESA is basically a dream come true.”
Frank Bunting may need some remedial numeracy training and careful teaching of accounting principles.
Frank Bunting INTO
The Code of Practice on Access to Government Information is a non-statutory scheme which requires Government Departments and other public authorities to release information in response to specific requests. The Act creates a statutory right of access, provides for a more extensive scheme for making information publicly available and covers a range of public authorities including schools and colleges.
Bangor Grammar School in County Down failed to answer a Freedom of Information request made on Monday 21st December 2009 made by The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE) on pupil attainments in examinations
. The legislation http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2000/en/ukpgaen_20000036_en_1 allows 20 working days for a reply to issue. The response can include information such as directing the queries to other sources, issuing a partial answer, citing legal exemptions to the request for information.
No such rely was received. Bangor Grammar School has now joined the company of other schools who seem to have failed to have learned the lessons given by their Education and Library Board’s FOI officer on their duties and responsibilities.
This disturbing information is made public to parents to take into consideration when seeking information about how the results of transfer tests such as the AQE Common Entrance Assessment or GL Assessment are to be used to determine admission to a grammar school.
It may be helpful for parents to familiarise themselves with the admission criteria to Bangor Grammar School. Given the school’s choice of the AQE CEA test ( a rank ordered approach) as the instrument to determine admission, the citation of the Minister’s Free School Meal criteria seems to indicate that two horses are being ridden.
To sum up: the School seeks to give due consideration to the constituents who have traditionally been part of the community which the School has served and which it reflects in its ethos; it also wishes to give weight to the Minister’s desire that schools should seek to restore the imbalance in access to post-primary provision caused by social disadvantage. To achieve this in its practice and procedures, the Board of Governors has decided that there should come a point in the selection process when pure academic ability as measured by a score in the AQE CEA as the sole criterion should be balanced against wider considerations. It has therefore resolved that, in principle, up to 90% of its admissions number should be determined by rank order in the AQE CEA and that the remaining 10% should be allocated primarily by means of the non-academic criteria.
Its choice of 90% is determined by the pattern of admission over the last three years, 2007 to 2009, when, on average, 92% of its intake was composed of pupils who had achieved a grade A or B in the Transfer process. The remaining 8% was typically drawn from pupils who had achieved a C1, of whom there were more than there were places available within the admissions number and to whom, therefore, the non-academic criteria were applied. To broadly replicate the position which obtained within the model of selection offered by the Transfer procedure up to and including 2009 and to sustain, therefore, continuity of process, the Board proposes to create a ‘pool’ of applicants drawn from the next pupils in strict rank order after the first 90% have been placed, the size of which is calculated as twice the number of places available and which will be approximately equivalent to the C1 band. Restricting the pool to this number will be more likely to ensure that all will be academically competent, while at the same time giving priority to socially disadvantaged pupils and acknowledging the School’s sense of community as represented by those groups listed in the non-academic criteria.
Perhaps instead of giving weight to the Minister’s desire the Principal should concentrate in compliance with the law.
15. This enables an applicant who is not satisfied with the response by a public authority to a request for information to apply to the Commissioner for a decision on whether the authority has acted in accordance with the provisions of the Act. Subject to certain conditions, for example, the exhaustion of other means of complaint, the Commissioner is under a duty to reach a decision.