Why SATs and ‘teaching to test’ can be so damaging

March 19

Teachers have been warning for years that SATs (national Standard Assessment Tests taken at the end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, in Years 2 and 6) have damaging consequences for many children. 
 
When teaching Year 2 at a different school, some years ago, I advocated disbanding SATs testing. I found that the preparation for these tests began at the start of the school year and, in conveyor belt style, continued into the next. I worried I was neglecting the creative subjects that provided a well-balanced curriculum. The lack of effective feedback did not help children to answer questions that should be a central part in the follow-up to any assessment: Where am I going? How am I doing it? Where to next? This approach is critical to building motivation and persistence in our learners.
 
Assessment is an essential part of teaching and learning in every school, in order to acquire information about children’s progress and achievement. However, how we assess is critical. Teachers are continually assessing children through their everyday oral interactions, through practical tasks carried out in lessons and through their homework. We discuss the results and identify pupils who may need support, or pupils who may need further challenges. Indeed, feedback is vital for learning. In his research John Hattie identifies feedback as ‘the single most effective classroom intervention’.
 
Herein lies one of the fundamental problems with SATs testing. Feedback is given as a score with no reference to where improvements should be made, and the child’s progress from his or her starting point is never referred to. SATs are meant to measure pupil progress but in fact are used to rank schools in league tables, taking no account of the school’s intake. 
 
Testing, observing and marking of children’s work must inform the children, parents and teachers of where they are now, but also what they need to improve or challenge themselves with next. 
 
In ‘teaching to the test’ there is no time given to explore the educational values we aspire to: that all of us can improve as learners and there is no ‘cap’ on what we can achieve. 
Mrs Kerry Owens 
 
Deputy Head
St Mary's Junior School, Cambridge
 

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