What is the cause of the shortage of tests and the confusion about giving them? At the moment it is muddying the waters and counteracting the efforts of teachers and parents to identify what is needed.
Dr Shingo Perry, lecturer in urban schools at the School of Education at King’s College London, who has researched school achievement, education and health policy, said there are four main root causes of the test tardiness:
1. A lack of trust in the consequences of unreliable results
2. Changes in professional practices (eg among NQTs)
3. Equipment shortages (including learners’ smartphones)
4. Schools employing NQTs on year-length contracts
He said: “Our evaluation shows that when test results for learning disabled and dyslexic children are published, teachers often use the results to conceal their performance, and the parents of such children do not know whether their child is in an inclusive or an isolation classroom.”
Departments could play a greater role in helping and supporting teachers to provide testing that “matches the teacher’s vision”, and to engage parents in testing so they can understand what data their children are being given.
Colin Challen, chair of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “We need to be very careful not to define a test to stay as a single outcome test of each and every child. We need to be clear that tests need to reflect children’s learning. Otherwise tests will only be able to assess a child’s notional learning. The best outcome test for every child has to be their top exam result.”
Emily Mackenzie, deputy headteacher and co-ordinator for learning standards and attainment at Petworth primary school in Lewes, said she had noticed a decline in the level of collaboration between teachers and school leaders in communicating about data and ensuring the needs of each child are met.
Pete Williams, a former academic and now executive leader at Bristol College of Education, said there needed to be training for teachers on different types of tests, and testing for extra work. He said: “We need to build on the principle of universal access in assessment, for all our schools, children and parents. Testing needs to meet and exceed the expectation that every pupil will leave school with the full range of abilities and skills we know they need for the variety of practical and study activities that will be a vital part of their life.”
Both Perry and Williams said that test-led policies such as SATs are problematic. “The research shows that your level of education depends much more on your work ethic than a set of test outcomes,” said Perry.
Williams said SATs fit between the time-table and monitoring the attainment of children going to secondary school in a given year. “But you have got to remember we are the latter of these two,” he said. “This is where assessments have both to go, but equally where the emphasis of measurement has to shift.”
He said that if SATs were given every year, students would be aiming too high. “Let’s say a pupil went to an academy. The head teacher would say the child is not doing well and it is costing that child more to enter SATs. The head teacher will then make the decision that the child will leave school too early. We need a new assessment system, and that takes time,” he said.
Williams said that testing for older children before and after school is “a profoundly flawed system”.
“The practice of [where children are tested twice a year] tends to conclude too soon [that] the child is not up to standard and then the intervention programmes will fail. That’s why it is important to think how we can deliver assessment more effectively to help children achieve the best possible outcomes,” he said.