What’s the point of SATs?
What’s the point of SATs?
In short: Very little!
Firstly, I’d at least try to provide some balance to my argument. The main arguments for SATs are:
- They provide the data for the ‘standards agenda’
- They provide an objective snapshot of children’s progress.
In 2009 I sent an email to Ed Balls at the Dept of Education and below is a quote that sums up the Government’s position. (A position that still holds true in 2011)
‘The majority of parents value the information our system of testing and assessment provides to help them choose the right school for their child and to have objective information on their child’s progress.’
From this quote there is, could I add, one more argument for SATs:
The fact that the Government feels that teachers are unable to offer an objective assessment of pupils.
I’ve facilitated learning with my class for the past two years, taking the children at the end of Y4 and all the way to the end of their primary education. It may seem odd to say that ‘Standards’ are one of my lowest priorities; learning and enjoyment are my top priority, with the belief that ‘Standards’ will be one of the many outcomes of my pedagogy. Children in my class have excelled in SATs this year and the cries of, “this should keep Ofsted of our backs!” have reverberated around the staffroom. I therefore feel in a position to add my two penneth’ worth
I suppose I should be happy then, my children have done great in their SATs! Ofsted (even if they do turn up), will be drooling over RAISEonline…I am not happy though. In their current form, I despise SATs with such a passion that I’d happily see them abolished yesterday.
The simple truth is that SATs do great harm to children. They fix their ‘ability’/mindset in maths or English. The ‘level 5’ children think they’re great or clever, the ‘level 4s’ will spend their secondary education in what we call ‘an average kind of hell’ and the level 3s will feel so stupid they will want to finish school now!
From the beginning of Y1 until the end of Y6 children spend over 6000 hours learning in the classroom . These youngsters put in a lot of effort in that time; they laugh, love, cry, complain, question, find friends (and enemies), have chicken pox and lose teeth along the way. In that time we hope they have become a child with the potential to flourish now and in the future.
Towards the end of primary school, the children sit ‘Standardised Tests’, in less than four hours, the Government decide whether the 6000 hours was all worth it! Children are then pigeon holed into the ‘bright ones’, the ‘average ones’ or the ‘slow movers’. All this assessment based up on two principles, maths and English. (see our blog on Multiple Intelligences http://wp.me/p1upWt-1S )
Imagine this: Ofsted, come into a maths lesson, maybe yours (I can feel the shivers down your spine as a write this) and you decide, based on your understanding of ‘Standards’ that:
- There will be no differentiation.
- Any word problems will involve the same three people and involve sweets or buttons.
- Children will, under no circumstances, be able to talk to one another, reflect upon their learning, collaborate with each other or think creatively!
- The lesson will be 45 minutes, not a second more, not a second less
- Pupils will not be allowed to apply any ‘help’ strategies if they get stuck; if they do get stuck, the MUST stay stuck
- All learning prompts will be covered up or removed from the pupil’s desks
- At the end of the lesson each children will be explicitly told they are either
- Above average
- Below average
After the lesson, you sit down with the inspector and confidently ask “Did you like the way I really focused on standards today?”…
Why assess children in a way so detached from the learning process? It’s like asking Lewis Hamilton to complete his next race in a submarine! SATs bear no resemblance to the learning process – the only thing being assessed is how good the pupils are at sitting a test, or as one little boy (Niall) said to me, “SATs only prove how well you do under pressure don’t they”
Chris, who had the highest raw score in the maths test, also happens to be the one boy who struggles most with problem solving! I also have a wonderful writer, she writes with such vivid description, creating wonderful pictures inside the minds of her readers – she ‘scraped’ a level 4 in the writing because her handwriting was poor and in this extremely unnatural situation, she failed to show the wonderful figurative language she shows day in day out in class. For the past two years I’ve shared my admiration of her writing with her, her parents and colleagues, only for the ‘Standardised’ test to inform us that she’s average! Sadly she’s not so sure she’s such a great writer now.
SATs are also used to put schools into a league tables. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that schools move from being collaborators to competitors. Teachers look to see if they’ve ‘beaten’ the nearest rivals and schools from economically challenging areas are looked down upon.
By creating league tables an ethos of competition, winning and losing, comparing and contrasting emerges; the motivation to collaborate slowly ebbs away. Self perseveration rules!
If it were a football team, the Y6 teachers would be the strikers who score the ‘goals’, they too often carry the weight of the team on their shoulders and should they miss the target, they are forced into finding excuses to save their skins. The Headteachers are the managers who watch on helplessly as the results come in, hoping they’ve beaten the school up the road for the kudos it supplies at the next meeting. And the sharing of ideas is something that can’t be done, after all why would you give your competitor the edge?
Would Chelsea and Manchester United ‘share’ players and tactics whilst performing in their ‘league?’
The Government and the media have hyped-up SATs to be the pinnacle of excellence, the gold standard for primary education, a system that gives bragging rights to some and embarrassment to others. SATs bog the education system down, skewing its purpose. The recent uproar relating to the marking of writing assessments illustrates our point; the anguish and anger caused by this cannot be good for children’s education.
It may then seem odd that we think getting rid of testing is not the answer. What we argue is that the significance attached to them is disproportionate to the data they produce. In short, good SATs results do not mean a good school and vice versa. They are the wrong criteria to use.