Archive for January, 2022

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Book Review: Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz

January 16, 2022

Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz. Published by Harvard University Press. 2008

One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 was to read more books and I intend to continue that into 2022. I will be reviewing those books that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

Daniel Koretz is the rarest of treasures: a Professor of Education who is an expert on a genuine body of knowledge. His speciality is testing, and he taught classes at Harvard on assessment. This is an area where it is possible to make and research empirical claims, and this is a balanced and well informed book exploring the utility and the limits of testing in education.

This is a good introduction to the key concepts and the technical language of testing. It is an important read at this time. These days schools seem particularly keen to design their own tests. Additionally, following the cancellation of exams in the last two years, much is claimed about both the value of tests and the capacity of schools to accurately and objectively assess their pupils. Test design and the interpretation of test results is not a trivial matter, and anyone claiming to be able to do them well just from their knowledge of teaching should be treated sceptically.

If you are expecting this book to give simple answers, it won’t. It will tell you that tests have an important role in assessment and cannot easily be replaced by other means of assessment. However, it will also tell you tests have important limitations, and that it is easy to make incorrect inferences from them. There is a body of knowledge out there that enables us to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of testing in a rational manner, and this book is a great introduction to that.

Terms such as “error”, “validity”, “reliability” and “bias” are thrown around in education debate about tests, often by people who have little understanding of what they mean in the context of testing. Rather than resolving all arguments, this book is a tool for having better arguments.

Its final chapter does, however spell out where tests are likely to be most useful, and in how the limitations of testing can be addressed. This is definitely worth a read before designing another assessment, or weighing into any more debates about the value of exams.

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The truth about exclusions and suspensions

January 3, 2022

I’ve mentioned before that we are frequently told that exclusions from schools are common, rising and racist. I find that evidence is often ignored, or carefully selected to fit, by those who make such claims.

The most recent exclusion figures we have are for the academic year 2019-2020 released in July 2021. These statistics are notable for several reasons.

Firstly, there is a change in terminology. “Fixed Term Exclusions” where a student is removed from school temporarily (usually for a day or two) are now called “Suspensions”. One of the most common tricks used to make permanent exclusions seem common is to cite figures for fixed term exclusions and refer to them only as “exclusions” in articles that are mainly about permanent exclusions. There would have been even greater clarity if “permanent exclusions” had been renamed “expulsions”  (this was proposed, but the DfE gave in to the anti-exclusions lobby). Nevertheless, the change ensures that anyone referring to suspensions as just “exclusions”, when looking at the figures, is likely to be out of date (or perhaps even dishonest).

Secondly, this was the first school year affected by Covid. The lockdown that year reduced permanent exclusions and suspensions dramatically from previous years. Permanent exclusions fell from 7894 to 5057. Although the DfE did its best to support the anti-exclusion lobby by releasing termly figures for that year and the previous year (and suspiciously for no other years) you can’t get round the fact that this is not an increase. When permanent exclusions fell slightly in the 2018/19 academic year it was easily hidden by talking about Fixed Term Exclusions instead, or comparing with two or more years earlier rather than just the previous year. In 2019/20 however, it doesn’t matter how you slice it, permanent exclusions and suspensions are lower than they’ve been in years. It also means that permanent exclusions and suspensions fell dramatically for almost every subgroup in the data. So another classic trick of slicing up the data (by gender, race, sector i.e. primary or secondary, age, region or SEND) and only reporting on statistics showing a rise, is not readily available.

Thirdly, this is the first year where black pupils had a lower rate of permanent exclusions than white British pupils. It’s only a marginal difference (the DfE website gives them both as 0.07%, i.e. 7 pupils in every 10 000) but if you calculate it to another decimal place you find black pupils are less likely to be excluded than white British pupils. Black pupils had been less likely to be suspended than white British pupils for a few years now. For a very long time, ethnic minority pupils in general have been less likely to be excluded or suspended than white British pupils. But those two facts had been ignored by commentary that focused only on the rate of permanent exclusions for black pupils while ignoring other data. Now, that trick is not available.

Combined together these three developments should make it impossible now for anyone to claim that “exclusions” are rising; that permanent exclusions are common, or that black pupils are disproportionately excluded. The exception to this is, of course, if one lies or shares information from somebody who is lying.

It is worth noting that, since those figures came out you may have seen some of the following claims:

(David Collins is a Sunday Times journalist.)

(Agenda is a charity, and after a FOI request I checked that the claim is no more true for black girls than for black pupils in general)

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From The Guardian

From the BBC.

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From activist Lee Jasper.

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From The Guardian website although it may be a story from The Observer.

(I doubt this is accurate about Katharine Birbalsingh.)

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From Professor Kalwant Bhopal in the Mirror.

(City Of London is a NGO).

(Beyond Autism is a charity)

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From The Telegraph.

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From The Express. (There are over 20000 schools in England, so the average number of permanent exclusions a year in most schools is actually less than a tenth of what is claimed in the first sentence.)

(Bright Futures is a charity.)

(The Council for Disabled Children (CDC) is “the umbrella body for the disabled children’s sector in England”)

I could keep going with this. The BBC and Guardian claims were particularly widely shared, often by people and organisations with power in education. My conclusion is that where there is an absence of data that can be cherrypicked to mislead, we can expect to be bombarded with outright falsehoods instead.

 

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15 Years (and more) of Blogging

January 2, 2022

Back in October, I reached the 15th anniversary of this blog (if not this particular address for it). Unfortunately, I’d got out of the blogging habit before then and didn’t really notice. As well as my usual tendency to forget about blogging for months at a time., there’s probably been a decline in teacher blogging in general which has made it seem less important than, say, tweeting about education. This is probably a shame; Twitter gets repetitive and you end up engaging with the least thoughtful responses to anything you say. So I am intending, once again, to get back to regular blogging.

Until I do though, here’s a quick reminder of what I posted about in my 15th year of blogging.

Exclusions

Books

Sexual Assault in Schools

Fads

Some of that already seems to be out of date. Compared with a year ago, I’m seeing far fewer people promoting strange ideas about attachment and far more people aware that so-called “Anti-Racism” training is often indoctrination and activism.

Exclusions, however, remain acutely contentious. The media, politicians and educationalists seem desperate to blame schools for social problems. Worse, many think the answer is to force a return to the 00s when a failure to exclude made schools dangerous places and whistleblowers like Angela Mason and Alex Doran were being banned from teaching for exposing what was going on. We shall see whether this continues. I hope the media will become bored with non-teachers claiming young drug dealers and sex offenders can be rendered harmless by progressive teaching methods, SEND interventions and being allowed to get way with it.

As ever, thanks to Gwen for her support with everything, particularly with the blog.

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Top Posts of 2021

January 1, 2022

Apologies for my general lack of blogging, particularly in the last few months, I’ll try to get back in the habit this year, although I said the same thing a year ago.

The following posts got the most views in 2021. Many of them weren’t actually written in 2021, so do check the date before reading as some are out of date. I have labelled the posts from this year.

    1. Definitions of Progressive and Traditionalist
    2. Corporal Punishment
    3. How To Find Out If Your Teacher Is Gay
    4. How misleading was today’s Guardian article on exclusions? From 2021
    5. Another myth about exclusions From 2021
    6. When “Antiracists” don’t care about racism and how it affects the debate about exclusions From 2021
    7. Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers
    8. How to Destroy NQTs
    9. Good Year Heads
    10. Academic and non-academic subjects
    11. A belated note on 14 years of blogging From 2021
    12. The tragedy of grades based on predictions
    13. A Brief History of Education Part 2: The 1944 Education Act
    14. Why I’m leaving the NEU
    15. Book Review: The researchED Guide to Explicit and Direct Instruction. Edited by Adam Boxer From 2021
    16. Finding or advertising a teaching job on Twitter with #teachingvacancyuk
    17. Guest Post: Sexual assault, or why my school will never really be “good”. From 2021
    18. The Worst Behaviour In School Corridors
    19. The latest Guardian article on exclusions From 2021
    20. Book Review: Running The Room by Tom Bennett From 2021

Happy New Year.

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