How to improve standards - don't test them

The Institute for Public Policy Research, the Government's favourite think-tank of the "Third Way" (by their own lights, the "UK’s leading progressive think tank", using "progressive" in the sense that has been coopted by the soft-left to imply that solutions other than their own are regressive), has suggested in a report published today that the way to stem the rising tide of illiteracy is to stop testing for it. Instead, teachers would make their own assessments. Limited tests would still be run, but not in all areas of all subjects, and the results would be used only to moderate the teachers' assessments, not to assess individual students' performance.

Teachers, of course, can be relied upon to be dispassionate in assessing the performance of their wards. Though this "solution" is proposed partly because teachers currently respond rationally to their incentives by drilling their students to pass tests rather than imparting a broader education, we should expect them to ignore their incentives and behave entirely impartially if the system is reformed to let them judge their own performance.

This is the intellectual bankruptcy of the left, and particularly of the Third Way, writ large. Having found that their original program of soft reform did not lead to improvements but to back-sliding, the cappuccino brigade want to extend their policy of making tests meaningless, so that we will know only by our own experience (which they will deny), and not by hopelessly distorted statistics, that their ideas have failed as badly as they were always bound to. First, exams were made easier to make it look like falling standards were actually higher attainment levels, and now tests that cannot be fiddled will be abolished completely.

When will it occur to them that the answer to falling standards is to return to traditional teaching methods (including restoring disciplinary authority to teachers and headmasters), and to provide kids with incentives to want to succeed. Making it difficult to fail, and, through generous social provision, insulating those who do fail against the consequences of their lack of effort or skill, is no way to improve standards. Education should be about broadening the mind, inculcating knowledge, and assessing a child's strengths and weaknesses so that they (and employers) can make more informed choices in their career path. Pretending that everyone's a winner does none of that.