Testing without Brains.

When SATs were first introduced it was with the aim that a Level 4b would be an ‘average’ level of achievement. Very quickly this became an expected level of achievement for the majority of pupils and now it would seem that anyone falling below this (or its point score equivalent) is a failure. In order to address this failure, children will now be expected to resit the tests in Year 7. It’s a policy of such bum numbing stupidity I can barely be arsed to write.

1. Year 6 teachers bust a gut to get kids through these tests. Sometimes in order to do it, they compromise the rest of the curriculum, pass out endless practice papers and teach to the test to the extent that they dream the test (in the rare moments they get to escape from their marking). They have their class all day every day. If they can’t get them through, then how a Year 7 English teacher seeing them a couple of times a week is supposed to do better I have no idea. Oh, wait…perhaps the kids will be taken out of Art, Music, PE….

2. Most of the kids who achieve (and yes, for many of them it IS an achievement) a Level 2 or 3 in the tests have statements of special educational needs. As I understand it, they won’t be required to resit. Instead, the sliver of children sitting in the middle will now be put into a new group or set “not special, just thick” and asked to do the test again. Before the supporters of this policy (the ones who managed to read past the word arse without fainting) charge me with the sin of facetiousness, calling children “mediocre” as Morgan did, is pretty much labelling them as thick. What happened to growth mindsets eh?

3. There is no evidence that testing children again and again improves their performance when the stakes are high. There is some evidence that low stakes classroom based tests aid learning, but let’s be clear, this is not what this resit policy is about. Instead it puts teachers and pupils under more pressure to narrow provision and divert resources.

4. There would, one assumes, be a huge cost to this policy in terms of setting, distributing, marking and moderating the results. But no – it’s cheap as chips apparently because teachers will do it. All by themselves. Those gaming, cheating teachers who couldn’t be trusted with coursework are apparently ok to assess these tests. Why? Perhaps because they don’t actually matter. They’re a policy sop to the media and to parents whose kids will never have to sit them. Tory heartland voters.

5. Those of us with memories will recall that the real SATs were subject to such controversy over marking a few years ago that the head of QCA was sacked and the system overhauled. But Year 7 teachers can mark them, no problem.

6. We don’t have time to mark them, by the way. Remember that thing about teacher workload you were banging on about a few weeks ago, Nicky Morgan, you know, in an unconvincing attempt to win some teacher votes?

7.  What I suggest is that if you teach Year 7, you just press ahead and teach children to love the English language. Read books with them, talk to them. Let them talk to you and to each other. Make writing the great, imaginative, wonderful adventure it should be. Forget the tests. You might as well not bother doing them actually, but if you do, draw a big smiley face on the front. Write PASS and then take them out to play – in a museum or a theatre or somewhere stimulating and lovely. Literacy comes with immersion and love of language. It doesn’t grow in a test.

22 thoughts on “Testing without Brains.

  1. A 4b doesn’t even exist! It’s only level 2 that is subdivided in c,b and a. And with the new curriculum the expected level is more in line with a L5 so we will have more children going into Key Stage 3 labelled as failures. Is this really what we want for 11 year olds? Many children, especially in writing, just need an extra year or two to develop a wide range of skills – let’s let them do that. And what will happen if they still fail in year 7? Will it be like the children who still don’t pass the phonics test in year 2 – nothing?

  2. Spot on as usual. I’m not often at a loss for words, but this sort of say something for the election rubbish shows why politicians should be kept out of education.

  3. Absolutely. I’ve taught Year 6 for the past 18 years and hate the SATs with a passion. They don’t prove a child’s knowledge, they just prove a teacher’s ability to teach to test and haul them kicking and screaming (some quite literally) through until May when everyone collapses in a heap. By the time the results arrive the kids are pretty much past caring (and they know that their results don’t matter because all the secondary schools do additional testing on their visit day) and all the school then cate about is the number crunching. Retesting the kids who don’t get there first time around is not going to do anything for their self esteem.
    Hear that Ms Morgan?
    It’s the sound of another lorry load of teachers leaving as you make their lives a lot less rewarding.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree and I have also been teaching year 6 for well over 10 years which leads to another problem with testing. You get a certain type of Y6 teacher. We know what we are doing with the tests and as much as we may dislike it, we get the kids through them and do well. Therefore, we are stuck (as much as we love our year 6). The risk of putting someone else in Year 6 is often to big – you take a dip, Ofsted are down in you like a tonne of bricks. You are the gatekeeper, the little boy with his finger in the dike, the David aiming his sling at Goliath which although sometimes heroic, at others can be soul destroying, death by testing and very very stressful.

  4. Yes. It’s just not very well thought through, is it? Another issue that struck me, as a secondary English teacher, is how on earth will I know what to teach? I have to admit I have a pretty sketchy idea of what KS2/ Y6 teachers actually focus on to prepare the children for this test. And am I to teach/re teach this material at the same time as my KS3 stuff. So the pupils who couldn’t get above L3 reading will try to relearn that at the same time as they’re doing their Shakespeare etc with me.
    I’m sure it’ll all be fine.

  5. I cannot see how anyone can think that making the children who ‘failed’ do a resit will make them ‘better’ or do anything for them.And by the way Gove has stopped resits for GCSE..one attempt only..he has done the same at A/S and A level…but now its ok at KS2…what bollocks

  6. The whole thing makes me so angry that I couldn’t be arsed to write either, so I’m glad you did! Arse is about the only appropriate word I could think of anyway!

  7. This proposed resit policy betrays such an ignorance of the nature of education in language and literacy that it is hard to know where to begin to comment. It reminds me of one of the first signs of political interference in the curriculum, when GCSE was introduced in 1988. It was announced that grade F (the former CSE grade 4) would be the expected average attainment for GCSE candidates. Only in Britain, I thought, would government mark the attainment of the ‘average’ child with a grade F.

    1. John – and that was also the time when a Grade C was supposed to be a sign of above-average ability. Now it’s the expected grade. Any teenager who fails to get 5 exams including maths and English at the expected grade is labelled a failure who’s destined for unemployment. And teachers are pilloried for ‘failing’ to push all children over this arbitrary target.

  8. As a primary headteacher, this is yet another example of ill thought out ” one size fits all” policy. However, the writing was on the wall with the phonic “resits” which were brought in a few years ago. You can hear Michael Gove/ Nicky Morgan/David Cameron (delete as applicable) cheering as this gives them another set is stats to prove everything in education is wrong, wooly and lefty!!!!! The pressure just mounts and good teachers are leaving in droves. Recruitment is a nightmare just now. Interesting isn’t it that apparently all those untrained graduates are leaving in droves. Anyway they can be replaced with another lot. That is unless the economy has picked up and so they don’t have to fill in their time, but can go to the jobs they always wanted to do. That’s the way to have good teaching!!! Oh but we are told that it is testing that improves things – silly me!

    1. You’re right that the phonics diagnostic check is being used to judge schools and local authorities. Nick Gibb praised a couple of schools in one of his favourite academy chains for 100% ‘pass’ in the phonics screening check while slating some LAs for performance across the whole area. Ofsted inspectors use the results to ‘inform’ their inspection judgements as they use all test results which appear on RAISEonline (a flawed database) or in the password-protected Local Authority Interactive Tool (LAIT) which doesn’t match the publicly available School Performance Tables because of difference in definitions. But this difference can mean the difference between success and failure as I point out here: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/03/mind-the-gap-it-can-result-in-success-or-failure/

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