Testing entrenches risk-averse behaviour - academic

From Nine To Noon, 9:19 am on 21 March 2017

An obsession with testing and assessment in schools is rewarding strategy rather than true learning, the author of a new book warns.

Welby Ings, a design professor at Auckland University of Technology and former secondary school teacher, told Nine to Noon that the child-centred (and world-leading) policies in the 1940s had given way to test-centred ones.  


Welby Ings says exams only teach students how to "sit in a room for two or three hours and answer 50 questions in a stress environment.” Photo: supplied

“Measurement and evaluation become preoccupying concerns, rather than when I send my child to school I want to think there’s going to be a great relationship between them and the other human beings they work with, specifically their teacher.”

New Zealand prided itself on a culture of innovation but that was something of a myth and the education system was entrenching risk averse thinking, he said.

"You don't get a naturally innovative country unless you design an education system that allows people to take risks and fail."

He said the culture of assessment and measurement inadvertently taught strategy.

"If you go into a system and work out the formula, the agenda, and were rewarded for producing stuff demonstrating learning by conforming to those exemplars, what happens is you become risk averse.

“The really deep danger for us as a nation is we end up with an education system that only pays lip service to innovation and what it does is it teaches strategy.”

One of those strategies is teaching children to take exams, he said.  

“That is a pretty useless skill beyond leaving secondary school. How to sit in a room for two or three hours and answer 50 questions in a stress environment.”

His book, Disobedient Teaching: surviving and creating change in education says teachers almost need to break those rules to be effective.

“Positive disobedience is when you look at fashionable ideas that have taken root and my professional compass tells me this is wrong, then you will disobey in whatever way it takes to get kids to something better.”