‘Them’s French breeds’ … the perils of standardized testing

Here is a delicious story about the stupidity and the perils of testing children’s knowledge using standardized testing – take note, Julia Gillard.

Marion Brady, American author and educational commentator…. Last Sunday I picked up a book by Gervase Phinn to read on the plane coming back from Gatwick. It was written by a school inspector for Yorkshire, and wasn’t particularly good, but it had a passage in it that I thought had much to say about the idiocy of standardized testing. He’s visiting a small school in the Yorkshire Dales. (I think that was where James Herriot lived and worked), and is checking reading ability.

A Masham or a Swaledale?

from The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn:

…In the infants [class], I chose a bright picture book about a brave old ram who went off into the deep, snow-packed valley to look for a lost lamb.

Graham, a six-year-old, began reading the story with great gusto. ‘Ronald was an old, grey ram who lived in a wide, green valley near a big, big farm.

‘At this point, he promptly stopped reading and stared intently at the picture of the ram. It had a great smiling mouth, short horns, a fat body and shining eyes like black marbles.

“What breed is that?” Graham asked.

‘Breed?’ I repeated.

‘Aye,’ said the child. ‘What breed is he?’

‘I don’t know,’ I answered in a rather pathetic tone of voice.

‘Don’t you know your sheep, then?’

‘No, I don’t,’ I replied.

‘Miss,’ shouted the child, could Tony come over here a minute? I want to know what breed of sheep this is.’

We were joined by Tony, another stocky little six-year-old with red cheeks and a runny nose. ‘Let’s have a look at t’picture then,’ he said.

I turned the book to face him. The large white sheep with black patches and a mouth full of shining teeth smiled from the page.

‘Is it a Masham or a Swaledale?’ he asked me.

“I don’t know, I answered in the same pathetic tone of voice.

Another child joined the discusssion. ‘It looks like a blue-faced Leicester to me. What do you reckon?’

‘I have no idea,’ I replied.

‘Don’t you know your sheep, then?’ I was asked again, and once more replied that I did not. By this time a small crowd of interested onlookers
had joined me in the reading corner.

‘They’re not Leicesters,’ ventured Tony, ‘because there’s a low gate in t’picture.’ There were grunts and nods of agreement from the other children.

Before I could ask about the significance of the low gate, Graham explained. ‘Leicesters are a long-legged breed. They can get over low

‘Is it a Texel?” ventured a plump girl, peering at the picture. Then she glanced at the ignoramous holding the book. ‘That’s a Dutch breed.’

‘Texels have white faces, not black,’ Graham commented.

Very soon the whole class was concentrating on the breed of the picture-book sheep.

A girl from another class was called in.

‘I reckon they’re Bleu de Main or Rouge de ”Ouest,’ she suggested. Then she turned to the dunce holding the book and looked me straight in the eyes. ‘Them’s French breeds.’


*(photo of the Swaledale by Sally Anne Thompson)



7 thoughts on “‘Them’s French breeds’ … the perils of standardized testing

  1. Great story, Sheryl.
    No child’s life should be blighted or intelligience judged by standardised testing.


  2. Ah, now I’m thinking back to my days in the classroom and missing the little blighters – I mean darlings.

    Kids. Precious.

    And knowledge – a strange beastie.

    I know a similar story from prac teaching at college – girl came back from an inner city school in Sydney astounded none of the kids had seen the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They only lived a few k’s away! But they never left their neighbourhood – didn’t need to, so why would they know?


  3. Yes, standardized testing has been going for many years and we keep on fighting it.
    I blame parents actually – thinking that a number measuring their child’s brain capacity means anything. Sad.


  4. That little gem really should be sent to Julia Gillard!

    There are two kinds of education…one from books and one from life. This anecdote proves that.

    Great little gem, Sheryl.



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