Education Ministry to launch nationwide tests for elementary school pupils

The Education Ministry will soon launch nationwide tests it believes will help improve the plummeting standards of Czech elementary schools. Contrary to the ministry’s original plan, the tests will not restrict those who do poorly from pursuing a higher education. Even so critics say the plan is too vague and some of them have even launched a petition asking parents to boycott the tests.

Josef Dobeš
When Education Minister Josef Dobeš first came up with the idea that nation-wide tests of 5th and 9th graders should determine their future education, he raised the ire of experts, teachers and parents alike.

Minister Dobeš later backtracked, and this week presented a new version of the obligatory tests. They will be administered in three subjects – maths, the Czech language and a foreign language, and will be based on educational standards that each 5th and 9th grader should achieve. Minister Dobeš explained what purpose they should serve.

“The main purpose is to provide feedback to parents, children and schools about the level of knowledge in the 5th and 9th grades. It will also unite the minimum standards in math, the Czech language, and a foreign language in those grades across the Czech Republic.”

Pupils will take the tests online; in mid December, a pilot version will be run at 100 elementary schools, and will not be compulsory. Then in 2013, the exams should be administered nationwide, and a year later, they will be implemented across the board. Education Minister Josef Dobeš again.

“In the pilot exams, we’ll be testing math, the Czech language and English. In May, 2012, we will also offer tests in French and German and we will set those standards so that the best pupils can receive international certificates.”

However, the ministry’s plan has drawn criticism from parents, teachers, and other experts. They point out that similar projects in other countries, in the US for example, have backfired. They also complain that the ministry does not really communicate with the public. One of the critics is Oldřich Botlík, a designer of tests for elementary schools.

“The minister’s plan – if any consistent plan exists in writing at all – has not been presented to the public and discussed. When asked about details, the minister has changed the objectives of the testing several times over the past year. Also, similar attempts have already failed on a large scale. A good example is the once ambitious US project No Child Left Behind which has been dubbed No Child Left Behind Alone.”

Mr Botlík also says the ministry has never explained how they are planning to help schools that do poorly to improve, how best practices will be shared, and so on.

The critics of the plan have launched an on-line petition asking parents to boycott the tests when they arrive. Mr Botlík says he understands the need to have a broader picture of educational achievements at Czech elementary schools; but he does not believe that testing each pupil in the country is the right way to go.

“A good solution could be a system of regular testing on representative samples, not on a large scale. Such a system should not harm anyone; it should focus on pupils’ creative abilities which means no multiple choice should be included. What’s happened in the US is the exact opposite. I know a very good example of such a system – the National Educational Monitoring Project in New Zealand.”

Despite the criticism, Education Minister Josef Dobeš has not ruled out the possibility that in the future, the nationwide tests might also serve the purpose of weeding out weak pupils and sending them to apprentice schools.