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    Zurich children must take major new achievement tests. But teachers are raising the warning finger

    Ohanian Comment: I have mixed feelings. First I posted this item from a Zurich newspaper and kindly translated by a concerned American living there, in Good News: Teachers standing up to testing assault. Then I read it again and moved it here: Teachers not yelling loud enough against testing assault.

    Didn't we have the same reaction? It won't be so bad; we can live with this. It won't hurt the kids. And so on.

    Yes, we are ahead of the curve on the testing assault, but those teachers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland had better get militant.

    by Daniel Schneebell

    Zurich - In Germany, a teacher's worst nightmare has become reality: the Bertelsmann Foundation has put together an educational ranking that compares the schools of all districts with each other. From that one can, for instance, find the students' reading achievement or the number held back a year. Now teachers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland have come up with the "Zurich Declaration" as a countermeasure. Because compulsory achievement tests are planned in all three countries, they are wary of school rankings that lead to a "senseless competition" among schools.

    The declaration states that it is unfair to compare schools with different compositions of pupils. "How are teachers supposed to be motivated toward integration [of weaker students and immigrants] when as a result they are later punished for lower average class results?" Further, there is the danger that schools will only teach to the tests.
    In the canton of Zurich students also have to take such achievement tests, for example, the comprehensive test in the second year of secondary school from which each student receives a profile of his strengths and weaknesses. This is helpful for their career choice. The results are confidential and will be made available only to the students and their teachers. Now Education Director Regine Aeppli (SP) wants to give comprehensive tests in the middle of sixth grade, intended to help teachers classify the children by ability for secondary school. A first sample test series is planned for next school year.

    Basis for staff discussions
    Martin Wendelspiess, head of the Zurich Public Education Office, assured yesterday that no rankings would be created. It will be evaluated whether to disclose test results to school administrators, because the performance levels of individual classes are often very different. A class's level of achievement could be a good basis for discussions with staff, Wendelspiess said, but apart from that he doesn't believe that this series of tests would become an issue for teachers, because it's supposed to serve the individual development of the children.

    Beat W. Zemp, Chairman of the Swiss Teachers Federation, confirmed that it would [be an issue], however. In any case, in the sixth grade the test is actually too late: because at this point children are just before the end of their primary schooling, it's too late for the test to motivate them [for secondary school]. Nevertheless, Zemp remains firm: "The parents believe these tests mean more than what the teacher says," and so he doesn't intend to fundamentally oppose the wave of "Testitis". He points to countries where standardized tests have a long tradition. In England, for instance, today people consider the test results crucial. Assessments of teachers are worth more, partly because they're no longer short-term snapshots.

    Even more critical is Lilo Lätzsch, President of the Zurich Teachers Association. She takes the comprehensive test with her students: "How does a bad result help a student?" asks Lätzsch. He can't include a bad test result with a job application. And he has usually already known for quite a while about the weaknesses the test identifies. For teachers as well, bad comprehensive results are demotivating. Like Zemp, however, Lätzsch doesn't want to stir up a fuss: "As long as no public rankings are being made, I can live with the tests." Beat Zemp sees the "Zurich Declaration" as a shot across the bow of test enthusiasts. Above all he's looking critically at the current plans of northwest Swiss cantons to establish tests in common.

    No school rankings
    The German Swiss Conference of Cantonal Education Directors is also thinking about measuring achievement in the school. According to director Christoph Mylaeus, a working group has the task to decide on tests for Curriculum 21. [Curriculum 21, "Lehrplan 21", is a public school curriculum scheduled for completion, and delivery to the cantons, in 2014.] According to Mylaeus, the education directors have issued a statement of their intent not to rank schools. Still, he can well understand the teachers' fears: "You could in fact abuse the tests to compare schools - where a canton establishes a legal basis for such school comparisons."

    — Daniel Schneebell


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