Life after SATs – a world to win

It is hardly surprising that the prospect of ending SATs has worried some parents and teachers. After all, younger teachers, and most parents, have always lived under their shadow. SATs are part of the landscape. It’s hard to imagine what schools will be like without them.

Communicating with parents

Parents expect good information on their children’s progress, but SATs don’t provide it.

  1. Many children’s scores are inflated through hundreds of hours of drilling – at the expense of the rest of the curriculum.
  2. Other children have a good understand but fail to get through the test in time.

Parents certainly don’t learn much from a SAT score. The teacher who has been with children all year can give parents a richer sense of their strengths and challenges than the SATs. The teacher can talk to parents about a wide range of work and what they have observed.

Making teacher assessment reliable

Naturally, when SATs go, some teachers will feel insecure about whether their expectations are high enough. There are two easy solutions:

1) Moderation

Teachers from different schools can get together to look at a sample of children’s work. They will discuss what to expect at age 11, what are the signs of a good performance in reading or maths, how much they need worry about a particular misunderstanding.

2) Sample tests

Teachers can download tests and assessment tasks to check their judgements. A teacher who needs to check that her expectations are sound can get a few children in her class to do a short maths test and a few others to do a reading assessment. This can be done without any stress or fuss.

In fact, dozens of tests are available from publishers and research units. Some of them are diagnostic, and some are computer marked to save teachers’ time. Some tests can be used at the end of a unit of work, to check whether all the children have mastered it.

One experienced publisher provides an assessment bank so that teacher can make up their own test to focus on a particular part of the curriculum: 7500 different questions, each providing feedback on a child’s strengths and difficulties.

Unfortunately much of their current use is driven by headteachers’ SATs anxiety: the tests are used indiscriminately on all children once a term. Without SATs, teachers will be able to use these assessments flexibly, according to children’s needs.

Assessment is more than a score

Assessment is not just about scores or grades. Other kinds of assessment can provide richer feedback on a child’s learning.

One proven method is the portfolio, and they are used all over the world, with all age groups.

  • With the teacher’s help, each child chooses five or six pieces of work they are proud of.
  • The portfolio forms the basis of a conversation between the teacher, pupil and parents. It can be compared with the previous year’s portfolio to show the progress made.
  • The portfolio can then be handed to the next year’s class teacher, or the secondary school.

Portfolios don’t mean filling wheelbarrows with work. They needn’t increase teachers’ workload. They do provide much richer information to parents and boost children’s morale.

Sadly, this government have even given portfolios a bad name. To assess writing, teachers are having to check that the portfolio includes enough examples of semi-colons, exclamation marks, frontal adverbials, and so on. Instead of pupils writing to express feelings and ideas, they are made to jump through hoops. This makes a mockery of portfolios and teacher assessment generally. It really is a burden, to children and to teachers.

See our previous blog posts about SATs:

Stop these tests, protect the children

Primary school tests and children’s mental health

Are SATs closing the poverty gap? 

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