SATs – the test that tells us nothing

SATs – the test that tells us nothing

The 2016 changes to the Key Stage 2 SATs tests grading system have been a travesty.

Just as the positive 2014 changes to the curriculum saw us rise up the PISA rankings, the 2016 changes to the SATs grading system could see us fall back down. Accurate information about how children are performing means that problems can be addressed and dealt with. The 2016 grading system doesn’t supply this.

The Key Stage 2 SATs tests are taken by 10–11-year-olds. The 2016 changes to the grading system have led to every child being placed into just one of three categories for literacy and numeracy.

They are:

  • Working Beyond National Standard
  • Working At National Standard
  • Working Below National Standard

But what does this mean? The three categories can be divided roughly into percentages, so:

  • To be ‘Working Beyond National Standard’ is for those achieving a score of around 80% or more.
  • To be ‘Working At National Standard,’ a child will achieve a score somewhere between 40% and 80%
  • To be ‘Working Below National Standard’, a child will achieve a score of around 40% or below.

Previously there was a highly effective and accurate assessment system that ranged from Level 1 to Level 6. There were 18 grades in this system as each level had an a, b or c attached to it.

The government generally claimed that a child should achieve Level 4 (a, b, or c) by the end of Year 6 (aged 10 and 11).

However, if a child had really exceeded expectations, they would have reached Level 5 (a, b, or c) or Level 6 (a, b, or c).

This system should be restored for several reasons:

  1. It gives clear and unambiguous information to parents who want to know how their child is really performing in the core subjects of English and Maths.
  1. Secondary schools are given a clear picture of how the child they are about to admit is performing in the core subjects. This is important for assessing where support might be required.
  1. Primary schools also receive feedback on how well their children have performed through the six years covering Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 education.
  1. The government can check that primary schools are helping their children attain the required standard to move on to secondary education. They can address the issue of poor-performing schools.

The post-2016 grading system gives virtually no information at all to anybody. It has simplified the grading system to the point where it’s pointless.

This is particularly true of the ‘Working At National Standard’ category which ‘pigeon holes’ children in the 40-80% group.

Most children are within this group, but how can a child who is achieving 70% be in the same category as a child who is achieving 40%?

They are 30% apart but to those looking at the grading system, they are equal achievers.

It is clearly ridiculous.

It is also unhelpful to not receive accurate information about children achieving below 40%.

There is a vast difference between a child having some difficulties and achieving 35% and a child who might only be achieving 15%.

How can a secondary school be warned of the extra support they may need to give a child if there is no information about them?

And what about those who are achieving more than 80%? Again, there is a real difference between an exceptionally gifted child who achieves over 95% and a child who achieves 80%.

I accept that tests are not perfect, but they do supply us with important feedback and information.

If we are going to do them, they must yield this information.

What is currently happening is a travesty.

There has been a real lack of foresight in the changes that were made.

I think the intention was to keep the test but effectively ‘de-fang’ it due to the pressures applied by those who dislike any form of testing.

These vested interests include unions and the progressive voices within education.

Despite the 2014 curriculum changes – on which I advised – leading to us moving up the PISA rankings, there are some who remain extremely opposed to any form of testing – in spite of all the evidence.

The 2016 change has been a huge mistake and needs to be addressed by the government.

The mantra that schools will ‘teach to the test’ will no doubt be rolled out as an objection, alongside the well-rehearsed comments that it is ‘too stressful’ for primary children to sit any form of test.

In answer to these objections, I would say that preparation for tests is no bad thing. Why should it be? It’s an important life skill.

Tests ensure that children have learnt key things and if they are well written it won’t involve children just ‘parroting’ information.

Children will have to apply their understanding and knowledge to answer questions.

On the issue of stress, I would say that we are not preparing children for life if we avoid everything that might be difficult. It is patronising to think that children can’t cope with a degree of stress and worry. Every other generation has managed.

Their resilience will be tested later in life and it is clearly for the best if they are prepared for it from a young age.

Teachers continually test children’s knowledge and understanding in the classroom anyway and formalising this in national tests should not cause a problem.

I make a plea for a return to the previous system of grading. It was straightforward and effective. It should never have been changed.