Tuesday 4 July 2017

As results are announced keep the SATs in perspective - schools and children are much more than a test score

  Children’s author Michael Morpurgo, in a striking phrase, has referred to the SATs taken by 10 and 11 year olds as a ‘dark spider spreading fear in primary classrooms.’

Primary school headteachers were able to access their school’s results overnight and social media is buzzing with reactions.

The TES reports:

The government also published the tables which show how many marks are needed in each subject to reach a scaled score of 100, which is the “expected standard”.

This year pupils needed 26 out of 50 in reading, 57 out of 110 in maths and 36 out of 70 in spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) to reach the expected standard.

This compares to 21 out of 50 needed in reading last year, 60 out of 110 needed in maths and 43 out of 70 needed in Spag. The jump in the marks needed to pass the reading test comes after Year 6 teachers had reported that the reading test this year was “kinder” than it was in 2016.

The new tests were introduced last year and could not be compared with previous years. It would be a mistake to make too much of any comparison this year as leading experts suggest that the data is ‘too fragile’ to interpret with any confidence.

The TES reports Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers:

Currently, the methods to hold schools to account aren’t as fair or reliable as they should be. Sats data only gives parents part of the picture when judging a pupil’s success or a school’s effectiveness.

At the moment, parents and schools know these results have to be taken with a pinch of salt. This can’t be right. Just looking at data misses the majority of the real work that schools do to help young people achieve their full potential.

Schools do need to be held to account but inspectors should look at more than just data. That way, when parents are reading Ofsted reports they can have more confidence that the report properly reflects how good the school actually is.

We are seeing the signs of a more balanced approach to the use of data by Ofsted, as expressed in a recent speech by Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, in which she said, ‘Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved.’

The issue of how results have been achieved is crucial.  Schools vary in their conduct of SATs and the amount of preparation. Concern about ‘teaching to the test’ in the last year of primary school, with a resulting narrowing of the curriculum and teachers and children feeling stressed by the pressure, has been widespread. Some schools hold special revision classes during the school holiday and others have endless practise tests.  Meanwhile children in private schools and those who are home-schooled escape the SATs completely.

Whatever one’s views we can probably all agree that schools and children are far more than a school. SAT results do not capture the many facets of a rich primary curriculum that will be familiar to many parents and that teachers struggle to provide despite all the pressure of SATs ‘success’.



Anonymous said...

The focal topic here is Standardised Assessment Tests (SATS), and I recall my reading a little over 20 years ago that SATs were first instituted en masse through the intervention of the corporation 'International Business Machines' (IBM) as a means of grading university entrants after WW2.

In learning and education, assessment is directed mainly in terms of 'measurable outcomes'. Thus the 'objectives' chosen for a learning exercise or program are largely chosen according to how measurable by forces outside the learner.

'Affective objectives' -- relating to learners attitutes -- are all too frequently ignored, and yet they are what I came to focus on with my learners as I went from being a 'late developer' at basic computing skills to teaching other slower learners as a volunteer. I had observed that government-funded training courses too often led to varying levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among my learners.

Away from the matter of en masse standardised testing, I would say that 'reality TV' programmes such as Britain's Got Talent, and especially The Voice — Kids are dangerous in that they get viewers to focus too much on 'talent' and skill as things that are more 'nature' than 'nurture'.

Over 30 years ago that as I entered Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music graded exams in Music Theory I was in my early 30's, and though my musicality was frowned upon at home in my teens and early adulthood — "Shut up! You're tone deaf, like your Auntie Daphne" — I was there because I wanted to be and with the help of an Inner London Education Authority-funded Community Education Centre.

With a comparably advanced mathematical intelligence, my pass marks in those exams were as high as 81/99 at Grade Seven, despite a learning difficulty that has since been informally diagnosed by Camden Learning Disability Services' Head Psychologist as dyspraxia.

Yet I kind of felt sorry for the teenagers I saw being led into the examination room by parents, as if those children were race horses being led into the paddock for a major horse race, as proxies to live out the parents' own unlived potentials.

Alan Wheatley

Anonymous said...

Regarding the actual SATs testing procedures and what might be termed 'the lowering of thresholds' I am reminded of the use of 'norms' in the Department for Work & Pensions passing people as 'fit for work' who are not really 'fit for work' under 'austerity' conditions.

Alan Wheatley