The Stressing Abominable Tests or The Shameful Aggrandisation of Tests? by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s January. That means the start of crazy season for Year 6. Incredible targets never before seen in the children’s lives are set, staff give up their mornings for booster sessions (not because they’ve been asked to but just because they want the children/school/performance management to get the results required) and children are suddenly hit with a larger amount of testing. All those who have worked around Year 6 know this feeling. However, as this circumstance impacts a large sphere of influence (other teachers, parents, governors, governments and so on) it creates a wide array of opinions.

I think there is one clear consensus – the current climate of testing in the Education System in England is not healthy. Children, teachers and schools are under strain to perform. It is not necessarily the expectation that is too high, but the emphasis placed on these results that causes extreme pressure. As I was looking at this issue I came across two excellent blog posts which identified contrasting views but both gave points which I fully agreed with. I would encourage you to have a look at them:

https://debrakiddmum.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/whose-child-is-it-anyway/

This post written by well-known Debra Kidd (who I had the pleasure of being taught by at University) and it hit home with me. She was always inspirational in her sessions and it was at the time I was being taught by her that she decided to leave the University and go back into teaching.

I have a 4 year old son. He loves dinosaurs, cars, Paw Patrol and playing with his parents and his little sister. He loves being read to and is starting to read letters and sounds as well as simple high frequency words (he doesn’t enjoy that quite as much though). Basically he is a typical 4 year old boy. However, in a year and a few months he will be sitting his first ‘test’. He will be tested on his ability to decode and read phonic letters and sounds. Now whilst I know this is not like the SATs and less emphasis may be placed on it, it represents the beginning of a school career of testing.

She states: “The new tests are so demanding and the results from last year so unreliable that schools are in a blind panic about not meeting the floor target. They are concerned that poor data will lead to a poor Ofsted inspection. They are right to be worried. This is the government that declared they wanted all pupils to be above average, demonstrating a poorer understanding of mathematics than they expect of their 11 year olds.”

I agree that schools are in a panic and that they are trying to shift their results in assessments that are of a higher standard so they reach high expectations. Due to schools being deemed as ‘requiring improvement’ if their pupils only achieve expected progress (wow, I would hate for my child to be in those schools that provide the progress that the government expects, because that are requiring improvement!) they are in a frenzy to push results up. Ofsted are changing their ways to put less of an impact of their judgements on hour long lesson obervations, but because of this they are relying more on data. We have heard the stories of inspections where the watchdog have walked in already with a judgement in their mind after having received a RaiseOnline analysis, and the school has to prove them wrong. I heard of a school where the inspector came in, did their findings, then said that the school was requires improvement. When asked for the points to improve on, they did not have any!! All from the results of these high-stakes tests.

Debra calls for parents to stand up and make their voice heard. A sticking point with some teachers on Twitter was the assumption that Debra suggests that parents should take their children out of the SATs pressure. Firstly, she does not suggest this – in fact she clearly states that she is not saying this: “That’s not to say we should all boycott – that’s a matter of personal choice, made between each parent and each child.”  I agree that changes need to be made. Hopefully parents can work together to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, I work with some parents that probably aren’t even aware their children are sitting tests this year (despite discussing it at Parents Evening with them). And this is where the issue arises – across the nation there will be parents who recognise the need for change but there will be a greater number who will be unaware of this issue. Can the current minority make their voice heard enough? Hopefully…

Then I came across this post by The Quirky Teacher:

https://thequirkyteacher.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-trouble-with-sats/

Again, several points were made in this well-written article, which was a direct response to Debra Kidd’s post. Out of the points that were made, two stood out to me.

The first was that the SATs were not the problem. Again, another point I can agree with. Schools must be accountable to the part they play in educating our children. If that performance was not measured then progress will slow. I hate having my performance monitored as much as anyone else but it is necessary in order to make sure children are making the progress required. As a result, some schools feel that they need to motivate children by saying these results will have an impact on their secondary school experience. This is plain lying. The children will be tested when they enter secondary school as the results they come up with are not always an accurate measure anyway. For example, I taught a child in 2014-15 who was not achieving more than 10/50 in the Old Curriculum Reading Test in March (in other words, just lower than a 3c). He left our school with a Level 4. I to this day do not know how that child pulled it off but I know that when he walked into that secondary school with that level attributed to him they would have wondered what happened in the Summer of 2015 between schools.

Speaking of that child walking into the secondary school with that level, it was stated with the introduction of the SATs that the system was simply there to measure the schools ability to educate and progress children’s learning. That actually should still be the case. But schools under pressure, parents wanting children to succeed and children being trained into this exam culture influence change the landscape of the purpose of the SATs. This was probably a naïve statement from the government at the time, but it is not a problem with the SATs themselves, it is a problem of those involved in the SATs.

The second point made was that parents must bear the brunt of the problems that have arisen. The point made is that parents are allowing their children to slack in their educational progress due to today’s culture of YouTube, quick meals and previous progressive education. Whilst to a point I agree with this notion, there is a comment I disagree with.

“…there was a time in the not-so-distant past when children mostly achieved these standards without too much fuss.”

Yes the standards are not astronomical. They are attainable and challenging and I agree with this. However, these standards have indeed been raised. If a child taught under the Old Curriculum for the past 7 years sat the New Curriculum assessments then they would struggle a lot more. This can clearly be seen in the number of children meeting the expected standard in Reading, Writing and Maths in 2014-15 compared to 2015-16 nationally. Why is this? The standards have changed.

However, I am not saying that the standards that have been raised to where they shouldn’t have been. And yes, as a general rule, children today do not have the same opportunities for learning at home then they did previously. This certainly is not the case for all but for most. Being a parent myself I know as much as any how difficult it can be to keep children focused on their learning and make sure they make as much progress as they can.

Simply put, I agree with both of these great educators in their points of view to a point. However, I think there is something we can all agree with – the current KS2 Assessments are not completely fit for purpose due to the impact their results can have for schools, not the fact we have tests or with the tests themselves.

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