You can’t test pupils into ‘excellence’

The culture of testing is not working, says Nancie Atwell, the first winner of the Global Teaching Prize, on a visit to London. Speaking at The Capital City Academy, London, where she gave a poetry lesson to Year 8 pupils, Ms Atwell said that the focus on testing children wasn’t helping to improve standards. Instead it was limiting children’s experiences in the classroom and contributing to low teacher morale.

Nancie Atwell won the Gobal Teaching Prize for her innovative teaching methods. At her small school in Maine for Grades K-8, children produce an average of 20 pieces of publishable writing – mainly poetry – a year and read on average 40 books. This is in contrast to the 6-7 books per year that most children read. She credits Donald Graves’ ‘Writing Workshop’, a teaching framework that champions student choice and self-expression, for improving her teaching. She found that when children were allow to choose their own books and writing topics, their level of engagement increased.

In contrast, in schools where there is a culture of testing, pupils focus on reading a small number of books in order to achieve better marks in the tests. This is counterproductive, Nancie Atwell feels, as having the opportunity to read widely and read well, will give pupils the best opportunity to get on in life.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, who was also at the academy, said: “This Government has reduced the number of tests children take – for example by scrapping modules and January assessments as part of our reforms to GCSEs and A-Levels – and is making sure they are only tested when they are truly ready.

“However, it is only right that parents, pupils and teachers have an accurate and robust way of judging progress which is why we are looking at the assessment of pupils at age 7.”




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