Education and testing are rarely far from the news headlines at the moment. The government appear to be making it up as they go along (Did you see the fuss over exclamation marks a few weeks back?) and teachers are essentially left fumbling in the dark as they do the best they can to get their pupils through tests which are completely different to last year and will likely be completely different to next year.
No teacher wants to “teach to test” but at the same time Ofsted, government targets and performance related pay all mean that in reality they have no choice. This year things are tricky. The tests and curriculum have changed. We are now expecting our children to study subject areas which wouldn’t previously have been touched for another year or more. Levels no longer exist and test results will be reported as “scaled scores” making it really difficult to compare assessment year on year. Both the end of KS1 and end of KS2 tests are something of an unknown this year with schools doing the best they can to prepare from sample tests.
I’ve been teaching for almost 13 years now. I’ve taught almost every year from Nursery through to Year 6. But my favourite year to teach, and the one I’m most experienced in, is Year 2. I’ve taught and assessed Year 2 SATs, been moderated and generally know my stuff inside out. Or I did.
Now the goal posts have changed. As I mentioned, the curriculum has changed over the last couple of years and this is now being reflected within the assessments – both the statutory tests and the new “tick list” teacher assessments. These check lists mean that teachers are no longer trusted to make a best fit judgement of their pupils but must provide three separate pieces of evidence for each and every item on the list. Previously your Y2 SATs writing tests concentrated on your creativity, your content, your sentence structure. You were marked on how well you engaged the reader or understood the features of different text types. Now? There is no set writing task, this is assessed throughout the year (with that tick list) and if you don’t join your handwriting you can’t achieve “deeper learning” even if your content is akin to that of JK Rowling.
There is a heavy focus on SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) with our 7 year olds now sitting a spelling test and a separate multiple choice test asking them to do things like identify verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs along with adding missing punctuation. None of these things are new ground for Year 2 children but this would normally just be assessed within their own writing. Year 5 and 6 however is a different matter entirely and I hold my hands up to having had to google some of the grammatical features they are being taught and consequently tested on. I’d love to know how many adults could confidently explain a “fronted adverbial”, “modal verb” or a “subordinating conjunction” (all examples lifted from the Sample KS2 SPAG Paper 1)
What is this madness? What are we doing to our children? The immense level of expectation being weighed on our children at an age where in other countries they might only just be starting formal schooling does not sit comfortably at all.
Of course this year I have a personal interest in the Year 2 SATs. This year Ben, my not even 7 yr old boy, will be taking these tests and I have a constant internal battle with wanting him to achieve and succeed, to get good marks on these tests and his end of year reports and actually knowing that the outcome of the SATs is inconsequential when it comes to the individual child.
The SATs, along with Teacher Assessment, are used to monitor progress, to set targets (and ultimately will affect the level of pressure Ben faces in Year 6) but are they a measure of his success? Do they test his enjoyment of reading, his sense of humour, his happiness. No. Of course they don’t. And that says it all really. Yes I’d love for his school report to be awash with high marks at the end of the year but more than that I want to know that he’s a nice person, that he behaves himself and that he has done his best. That he has achieved what he should have done, not what the government and their ever moving goalposts have decided is appropriate.
I know that if Ben were in my Year 2 class some six years ago he would have been doing absolutely fine and I would have no concerns that he would be getting top level 2s and maybe even some 3s. This year he will be graded “Working towards the expected standard” / “Working at the expected standard” / “Working at greater depth within the expected standard” ….. make of that useful judgement what you will. How do you even track progress with judgements like that?
I’m glad that Ben’s school don’t seem to be making too much fuss about his end of KS1 tests, he doesn’t seem to be all that aware of them and frankly that’s the way it should be. Teacher Assessment should still form the bulk of information contributing to your child’s level at the end of the year – the test should inform and support Teacher Assessment rather than being the linchpin though you wouldn’t think that were the case from the amount of attention paid to them. As long as Ben comes out of the end of Year 2 with a smile on his face and the knowledge that he has tried his best, I’ll be happy.
Have you got children sitting SATs this year? I’d love to know what you think.
EDIT: And tonight’s news, just hours after I published this post? “Government caves into demands to scrap primary school spelling test“. So, I refer you back to my very first paragraph . . . “The Government appear to be making it up as they go along.” and rest my case.
(With thanks to MB & GD for their support whilst I was writing this!)