I am on a bit of a roll thinking about assessment. I’ve been considering several reports by independent psychologists about pupils in our region and have found immense contrasts between these and the assessments we undertake with the same pupils.

I have every respect for parents who feel unhappy with provision at school because of the perceived slow development of their children. Their advocacy for what they feel to be their individual child’s best interests is an entirely natural and laudable reaction. Sometimes they turn to private ‘consultants’ to give them answers they feel they cannot get from us.

Unfortunately, the reports many of these independent assessors write reflect very different views of the nature of intelligence and the way that people learn from those held in schools today. They do not, in my view, reflect the reality of 21st century learning. These differences can, at the very least, cause misunderstandings. Parents pay a considerable amount for such testing and recommendations and are consequently upset when we question the results and challenge the recommendations. What is fascinating about the one I am about to dissect is that the tester discounts an inborn or familial predisposition to dyslexia. This is the first and possibly last time I will ever say a child is a learner with dyslexia when an external assessment does not.

The report concludes that the child I shall call Sarah is an intelligent and emotionally well-adjusted girl. I am not sure how the psychologist was able to ascertain Sarah’s emotional state. She certainly presents as a polite, chatty, co-operative child. On the basis of an hour long acquaintance involving formal academic based tests, such a conclusion is somewhat hasty and unnecessary in the context. There are tests for emotional resilience that some psychologists think are worth while, but these did not inform this statement.

Even more interesting is the statement that: The IQs are at the 86th percentile, indicating intellectual skills comfortably above those of ¾ of her peer group.

Howard Gardner writes: A significant part of our educational malaise lay in the mindless instruments that were conventionally used to assess student learning and, not incidentally, to signal what learning is.
IQ testing reflects a certain view of human nature wherein a belief in ‘inborn’ abilities exists. These abilities are thought to develop in a smooth linear curve of learning from infancy to old age This belief assumes …the desirability of assessing potential and achievement under carefully controlled and maximally decontextualised conditions.

Historically intelligence is associated with the idea that it constitutes a fixed, single and hierarchical entity. The notion that there is some kind of general intelligence has been embedded in the West since the early 20th century but now has lost its credibility in all but the most hidebound of people and institutions. (At least I would like to think so). Intelligence – IQ – was thought to be quantifiable through a series of paper tests which tend to require convergent thinking and give little or no opportunity for a demonstration of creative or divergent thinking.

This narrow definition of ability required an exclusive approach to education. Students were designated ‘gifted’ or not – a hard and fast ascription – and grouped accordingly.

It is no longer tenable to apply such outmoded and potentially harmful designations to our young people. That is why only psychologists in the private sector (with all that entails) continue to use these worthless instruments.

Like most, the one I have been considering today used the Weschler Intelligence Scale (WISC), the Burt-Vernon Graded Word Recognition Test (1975), the Burt-Inglis Spelling Test (1956) and the Ballard Oral Tests of Computation. The tester gave no details of which editions he used. The WISC was up-dated in 2003, the Burt-Vernon re-standardised in 1975: I wonder if he used these most recent tests. I know nothing about the computation test and can find no reference to it but a comment from the assessor himself indicates that it is rather out-dated. And with that I shall leave the final word to the psychologist:
Sarah’s scores on the two tests of rapid basic mental arithmetic are again markedly below expectation. Conceivably this may reflect modern changes in curricular emphasis.

Got it at last! But he still extracted about £400 for this nonsense