Kent Test Outcomes
I have obtained figures from KCC that underline Judd’s concerns about the coachability of the Kent Test verbal reasoning (VR) and non-verbal reasoning (NVR) assessments. Children currently sit VR, NVR and mathematics tests and these are nationally standardised, using children elsewhere in the country who haven’t been coached, so that they should produce the same pattern of results in each subject. However, the table below shows this is not so, and the wide discrepancy can only be down to the effects of coaching of Kent children on the two Reasoning Tests. I am sure that coaching equally takes place in mathematics, but clearly is not as effective in a curriculum subject.
For 2014 entry, a pass in the Kent Test was gained by scoring at least 118 marks in each of the three tests, with an aggregate score of 360. This allows 21% of all Kent children in the age group to pass (the other 4% come through Headteacher Assessment). The Judd School in addition requires a high aggregate score for the tests which has been as high as 418, although the Kent Test is designed to choose children at the 23% ability level, and is not tailored for this specialist purpose.
Kent Test outcomes in September 2013
Number of children scoring marks for individual subjects
|Kent residents||Out of County|
The table shows that children achieve markedly higher scores on the VR and NVR papers. One consequence of this variation is that if children pass in mathematics, then 7/8 of them will pass the Kent Test, so maths becomes the real determinator of success. Because of the standardisation, this can only be down to coaching, which is most effective in the reasoning papers.
The proposed Judd School tests
At the highest scores that most interest the Judd, the effect is even more extreme, with nearly seven times as many Kent children scoring 141 in VR as in mathematics. It is hardly surprising that the Judd wishes to lose the element which is being over-coached at the expense of some very bright boys missing out on selection, and replace it by some other measure of real ability! The school has also made clear that it is concerned about the lower than expected level of English ability demonstrated by some of the boys it admits. It anticipates that by replacing the reasoning tests with an English Test containing an element of creative English, it will both solve this problem and minimise the bias and unfairness of the Kent Test on its own intake. Further, it will be testing Key Stage 2 curriculum work which it hopes will reduce further the effectiveness of coaching and give very able boys in state primary schools a better chance of showing their ability and being offered a place.
If the school wishes to see if this works, they only need to look over the county boundary to their competitor school, St Olave’s in Bromley, which has operated this pattern for some years.
The St Olave’s Test comprises:
A Mathematics test consisting of around 30 questions of generally increasing difficulty.
An English test that has two equally weighted sections. One section assesses reading and the other assesses writing.
1. Section One tests reading by multiple choice questions, based on fiction or non-fiction passages plus some questions on basic grammar.
2. Section Two tests creative writing skills.
St Olave's advises parents that as one would expect, the test is academically demanding which clearly means more demanding than the normal Kent Test.
Where does KCC go next
So where does this leave KCC? The new Kent Test outlined in previous articles, to be introduced for September 2014, has introduced an element of literacy alongside the VR, NVR and mathematics, but assessed only in a multiple choice format. This test was introduced partly to persuade schools such as Judd (the market leader) to stay with the single cross-county test, but has signally failed. Boys considering Judd will probably also take the Kent Test as a safety net, whilst many also take St Olave’s, the Bexley Test, and tests for some other ‘super selectives’ around the M25 fringe. How long before other Kent grammars decide to go down the same path? One can visualise Tonbridge Grammar, Skinners, and the Dartford Grammars all looking on and considering a similar move. I anticipate that in East Kent the trend towards an alternative test with a different agenda will gather pace, several other schools already considering this option. I don't think it realistic for KCC to introduce a creative writing element, as objective marking on a large scale becomes very difficult and expensive. Kent, perhaps wisely, only agreed a contract for one year's testing of the new scheme, for the pattern of take up could be very different in two years time. Is it too radical to consider that KCC may choose to wash its hands of a common test altogether and hand it over to the grammar schools themselves to sort out?
Grammar School appeals on grounds of failure in the mathematics test
How do the results quoted above, affect children looking for places on appeal at other grammar schools? We can see that the vast majority of these have failed on the mathematics element, and so appeal panels end up considering children who nearly all follow this pattern. Many parents approach me to assist in an appeal on the sole grounds that the maths score is lower than the scores on the reasoning papers, but these results show this is unlikely to be sufficient, and other grounds must be sought in most cases
When I was a grammar school headteacher in NW Kent, I was part of a group scheme for 11+ testing that proved very flexible to be able to meet our needs, so I can understand the attraction. However, if this trend continues this will further erode or destroy the concept of a “grammar school standard” in the county, leaving children faced with multiple testing because of a failure to agree!