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Monday, 29 May 2017 19:59

Medway Test 2017: Late notification of Important Change

Update Two - 3 August: In talks to parents, the Student Services Manager at Medway Council has told families that there is no need to prepare specially for the changed Verbal Reasoning Test (now CEM),as it is covered in the normal English KS2 curriculum. He has also confirmed the sole reason for the change is that it has saved money (never mind the content policy change!). Medway Council has now produced an article explaining the use of the Familiarisation Booklet, which I have commented on at the foot of this article. I also include a link to the Booklet which has not been published, 

Update: The value of the following item is underlined by the interest shown by browsers. 1500 hits in the first two days makes this the second most popular item on the website this year - in third place is the article Medway Test Scores Blunder - Medway fails families yet againconfirming once again the lack of confidence Medway families have in their Council's education operation. 

The Council sent a letter to schools last week announcing that it is changing its Test provider from GL Assessment to CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) for the forthcoming Medway Test in September. Unfortunately, the two testing providers have different interpretations of the assessment procedure, as explained here. The CEM Verbal Reasoning Test is far more language based than the GL model (which is used by Kent), including vocabulary and normally comprehension, as can be seen by a glance at the above link together with model answers provided by commercial companies. It will account for 20% of the aggregate Test marks which, together with the 40% for the Free Writing Test, will make this a highly language based selection method. It will therefore discriminate against children from socially deprived areas who are often weaker in language skills, children with English as a second Language, boys, and those who don't hear of or appreciate the change being made. The Council’s letter to schools gives no rationale for this change of approach or warning of the effects of the change, so presumably it is not for educational reasons, but simply a cost cutting exercise. 

Neither does it do anything whatever to address the other serious problems I have previously identified in the Medway Test process, missing a golden opportunity in its recent review of the procedure, which appears to have reached no conclusions. It also comes close on after last year's debacle of the 2016 Test.   

In addition, the Council has suddenly dispensed with the services of its highly experienced Free Writing Test setter, and at the time of writing does not appear to have re-employed any of its trained markers, although there is no change in the processes. It is not yet clear who is going to provide these essential skills this year.

The Medway Test
The Medway Test, explained in more detail here, currently uses three assessment papers: Verbal Reasoning (up to 20% of the total marks); Maths (40%); and Extended Writing (a single piece of written work, assessed for a number of skills including Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar, 40%). These three figures are added together, and the highest scoring 25% of Medway children are selected irrespective of their scores in individual subjects. See below for my comments on Extended Writing. 

The highly respected NFER research centre describes VR  Tests as 'generally designed to provide an overall measure of scholastic ability without having a specific curriculum content, principally assessing inferential and deductive skills. The tests have high reliability and are relatively good predictors of subsequent academic attainment (good predictive validity). These tests consist of a variety of item types, typically including similes, antonyms, analogies, codes and anagrams’. 

Change of Emphasis
Verbal Reasoning Tests do place a reliance on the use of words, but CEM takes this further, and introduces other language skills. Many selection systems including that of Kent County Council, also use a non-verbal reasoning assessment which tests a different set of skills, and would have been a possibility for a CEM Paper, to keep a more balanced range of material.
CEM Test papers used for grammar schools and Local Authorities in other parts of the country certainly pick up this difference in use of language. An article for 11 Plus Exams, a commercial Tuition Centre that runs a popular online forum, records that:
The CEM exams varies by region and in using higher levels of vocabulary in lieu of more demanding styles of reasoning tends to favour children from an independent schooling background which tend to work one to two years ahead of the national curriculum. Moreover it is disadvantage to multilingual children whose first language is not English but nonetheless children are just as bright and deserving. Making the question ‘styles’ more transparent i.e. public, will level the playing field for all the children irrespective of the ability of the parent to pay. At present the exams could discriminate against less well-off parents and immigrant children’.
Certainly, CEM papers range more widely in content than those of GL, the organisation quite reasonably arguing that this uncertainty makes it harder to prepare for the test, which I believe makes some sense for selection to super selective schools or those in areas with low levels of disadvantaged children, but not for an area test such as in Medway or Kent, which select 25% of the ability range across all local children.
I have no current view on the CEM Mathematics paper, compared with the previous ones set by GL. 
To my surprise, Medway’s level of social deprivation for secondary school children measured by Pupil Premium (26.6%) is lower than the national figure of 29.1%. However, it is one of the higher figures in the South East (21.9%) and the Council ought to be pursuing strategies to maximise opportunities for these children, rather than going into reverse in this way.  
I am disappointed as so often by the actions of Medway Council, with its failure to give adequate notice of the change of approach to families, not even bothering to give notice of the change on its website at this time. Certainly, the letter to schools gives no warning of the significance of the change, so some may not  pass it on.
Medway Council does propose issuing Familiarisation Papers for the new Tests in September, just a week or so before the Tests take place, so no chance there to absorb the level of change. You will find an example offering limited clues from another Local Authority here.  Kent County Council publishes a Familiarisation Booklet permanently on its website which is designed to show the style of its papers, rather than content, for the range of topics can be very wide.
The CEM website states:
‘CEM aims to reduce any disadvantage created between children who are tutored for tests and those who are not. We firmly believe that children should not be tutored for our selection assessments. Our assessments are designed to enable all children to demonstrate their academic potential without the need for excessive preparation’.

I am fairly familiar with the situation in Buckinghamshire, where parents don't appear to have noticed the above strictures, and the tutoring industry thrives and operates extensively. Indeed, the admission that CEM ‘aims to reduce any disadvantage’ surely acknowledges the reality that there is one, and parents  would be wise to ignore the foolish ‘belief’.

Whereas GL publishes examples of the type of questions they set in their 11 plus tests, CEM does not, in the forlorn hope there will be no leakage. Hence their unsubstantiated claim that they are less tutorable! However, there are a number of commercial companies that publish CEM type materials who will no doubt have a boom in the Medway towns. From my experience of both systems I strongly recommend that children are made familiar with the new testing process, although state schools are banned from explicit teaching in class time.

My own position remains unchanged. I dislike the principle of tutoring intensely, but given that selection by Test exists, so will tutoring by individuals, agencies and in private schools. I therefore still recommend a certain amount of familiarisation, perhaps by tutoring or alternative family support for all children, to ensure all candidates are comfortable with the main types of question examples and any unfairness is minimised. I also recommend a decent preparation run in time from around Easter of Year Five, although many tutoring agencies will and private schools have been in full operation since before the start of Year Four.

Extended Writing
Over two years ago I wrote: “Medway Council is conducting a Review of the Medway Test at present and I would expect these issues to be central to the discussion, although I have raised most of them before with no response from the Council”.  I understand that views from myself may not be palatable to the Council, but surely, the welfare of children is more important.  

By its very nature, the Extended Writing Test is an unreliable assessment of ability. Children are set one lengthy task from one of the Key Stage Two Writing Genres, which is awarded two fifths of the aggregate marks in the Medway Test. Outcomes show the assessment highly favours girls and older children, although it is claimed to be age standardised. As the pass standard requires an aggregate score only, a candidate with ability in English who is fortunate with the choice of subject or genre can score exceptionally highly and have no need to show ability in either maths or verbal reasoning. Conversely, I have seen too many candidates who have misunderstood the assessment, fail badly in spite of respectable scores on the other two papers and lose their chance of the grammar school of their choice. We now have an even higher proportion of marks being awarded for literacy. 

None of this is the fault of the highly experienced question setter, a retired headteacher who was also the trainer and leader of an experienced team of markers, although their services appear to have been suddenly dispensed with, but without explanation or thanks. It will be interesting to see how new high quality replacement markers are recruited, but what a waste of expertise from an organisation that is sadly very deficient in it! 

Medway Council Familiarisation Booklet
You will find an explanation of the distribution method and use of the Familiarisation Booklet here.  I know I am often critical of Medway processes (with good reason), but this does seem unduly parsimonious, especially the instruction: 'Returning to School in September. We have asked schools in Medway to go through the familiarisation booklet with their pupils who have registered for the test. If you are a parent/carer of a child(ren) in a Medway school please ensure that they take the familiarisation booklet back to school on the first day of term to allow the school to go through it with them. There will be no spare copies of these booklets available to schools at that time, so your child must take their booklet back into school'. This shows a lack of awareness of reality with, I foresee, a large number of children turning up without copies! However, no doubt most schools will be prepared. I am very surprised the Council has not published the Booklet on its website, but if you haven't seen it for some reason,  you will find a copy here.  
The booklet does confirm the statement that the new Verbal Reasoning Test looks very much like an  English paper, with three sections, on Reading, Word Choice and Comprehension, although of course there will be different areas of the language curriculum tested, so candidates need to be prepared for other types of question. The consequences of this change of emphasis are discussed in my previous article include the overwhelming one that three fifths of the Medway Test results are now awarded for proficiency in English, which will inevitably increase the proportion of girls passing the Test. 
Last modified on Friday, 08 June 2018 23:11


  • Comment Link Friday, 08 June 2018 13:57 posted by Charly

    The "Medway Council Familiarisation Booklet" link provided in this article isn't working. I'm not referring to the link to the council's website, but the one linked to the this website.

    If it's no longer suitable for use, please let me know. I want to show it to my daughter who is taking this year's tests.

    Many thanks. PETER: Now fixed! Sorry about that.

  • Comment Link Friday, 11 August 2017 10:40 posted by Sandra Ozturk

    I have daughter who will attend Medway test.
    Our tutor told us that there is going to be a non verbal reasoning in test. Is it true? PETER: No, it is untrue. As my article and the Medway documentation both say clearly, the Medway Test comprises only: Verbal Reasoning (including English); Mathematics; and Extended Writing. Non-Verbal reasoning comes in the Kent Test only.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 10 June 2017 17:37 posted by Morehall Parent

    Hmmm, I have two children at Morehall Primary School in Folkestone, now run by Turner Schools, having taken over from Lilac Sky in January. I thought it couldn't get worse, but Turner Schools have managed it. two changes of headteacher, rapid turnover of staff, too many supply teachers, Our children don't know where they are with so many changes of teacher. TS arrived with high hopes of improvement, but have used up all the goodwill. PETER. Sadly, these comments echo others I have received.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 31 May 2017 22:56 posted by Medway Tax Payer

    Medway Council Fails Again. Why is no one ever accountable for the innumerable cock-ups over the years, which are recorded on this website.
    How many families will discover this important change too late, what distress it will cause their children, and what will it do about the unfairness introduced for families who don;t find out in time, if at all. PETER: 1,600 readers of this article in just two days, second highest figure for browsers in such a short period. Second only to last year's 'Medway Test Blunder' article. What more is there to say!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 May 2017 18:46 posted by Ashley H

    What a disgrace, but no surprise about Medway Council if you have visited Peter's website before. We made a decision not to employ a professional tutor for September's Test, but have been gently working with our daughter through a series of GL Assessment books. This morning a friend told us of this latest exposé of Medway's double dealing and we have just bought a set of CEM booklets. They clearly have a very different approach!

    If it weren't for this article we would have carried on in ignorance. Thank you so much Peter; shame on you Medway Council.

    P.S. We have now subscribed so as not to miss anything else. It is easy to do and may save us further grief!

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