The Assessment of Attainment of Young Children

I quote from a discussion paper written by Christian Schiller for the Ministry of Education in 1946.

“They say that no one truly sees his own face. This mercy of nature comes from the fact that reflections in a mirror show partial pictures which are flat: they cannot show an object in the round. To see an object in the round it must be observed as a whole in three dimensions.

The skills of young children show reflections of their attainment, but they do not show attainment in the round. To see their attainment in the round we must observe it in their way of living. For instance, a young child’s attainment in language is reflected in his skill in the grammatical arrangement of words. But his attainment is seen in the round only by observing the ways he uses language; by the way in which he expresses his own thoughts and feelings in speech and in writing and the way he appreciates the speech and writing of others.

To assess attainment it must be observed in the round. Such observation is not easy…..Observation is sometimes used in the limited sense of noting the score on a standard scale: it will be convenient to call this  “measurement”.

Measurement has shown that at any specified age most children are, within a certain range, so many feet and inches (meters and centimeters) tall. This height and range are not constant over long periods. For instance, most children of Jarrow are now several inches taller than were most of the children of the same age at the time of the depression fifteen years ago. None the less it is valuable to measure at regular intervals a child’s height, in order to note whether he or she keeps within the range of children of the same age. But if this should not be the case, we do not assume that he or she ought to be such and such a height and strive to remove the defect by physical extension. We seek to discover if the defect is due to nuture or nature: if it is the former, we try to provide what is lacking: if it is the latter, we are content to remember that Nelson was a small man……

….an assessment of Mary Smith’s attainment in reading. Mary Smith’s score in the reading test is a measure of her skill in turning black marks into sounds. To see her attainment in the round we must observe how she reads. With what quality of understanding does she read? How fully has she experienced the enjoyment of reading? For how long does she remain interested in a book? What sort of book does she like to read? How pleasantly can she read aloud? How much can she appreciate the reading aloud of others? Does she ever read at home? And so on.. Such observation will begin to show Mary’s attainment in the round and it will begin to reveal what has been lacking.

…The skills of young children show reflections of their attainment but to assess their attainment we must see it in the round by observing it in their way of living. To make and record such observations as will give an assessment of attainment is surely one of the important tasks of the ..teacher.”

1946: So in 2016, which, if my mathematics serves, is 70 years on, our “masters” at the Ministry of Education, now Department for Education, think that measurement is all about a test score!  

Well we have come a long way haven’t we ?


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