The latest Statutory Assessment Test results (Sats) have been released and will reveal whether all the coaching and anxiety has paid off for schools and pupils.
Sats have never been far from controversy. Introduced in 1989, the national curriculum aimed to ensure standardised teaching across all government funded schools – and Sats were the assessment of performance against expectation.
The results provide schools with a way of monitoring children’s progress and can be accessed by secondary schools to help set their Year 7 pupils into ability groupings. The data, which is published by the Department for Education, also allows for comparison of schools – which can help parents with school selection.
On top of this, Sats provide additional insight into school performance for Ofsted inspections – which allows the government to monitor whether schools are enabling children to show progression.
The tests have become “high-stakes” – in that they are seen as crucial for making decisions about the future for children. Sats are also considered to be a measure of the effectiveness of teachers and the accountability of the schools. This is despite the fact that these tests are just a snapshot of learnt information and are not necessarily a good predictor of later achievement.
‘Too much pressure’
It’s maybe not surprising then that by 1995 – only about five years after the introduction of Sats – teachers had threatened to strike twice due to excessive workload exacerbated by the tests. Teachers also felt compelled to teach towards the test to meet targets.
After high profile criticisms and marking process failures, Sats for Year 9 were removed in 2008. But only eight years later in 2016, criticisms surrounding Sats were still going strong, with some parents removing their children from school in protest over the anxiety and pressure of the tests. Groups such as Let Our Kids Be Kids gathered further petition signatures to boycott them.
Schools feel (and are) compared and judged, often without taking into consideration weaknesses or strengths of specific cohorts. This can lead to teaching to the test and a limitation on delivering a wider curriculum.
The timed nature of the tests also produces anxiety in many pupils – especially in children who need time to think through their answers – a half finished paper does not provide an accurate indication of ability. The language used also discriminates against poor readers.
Naturally, this has left secondary schools uncertain of the reliability of Sats as a gauge for which ability sets children should be placed within – being placed in the wrong set can lead to underachievement.
This is in part why many schools are now considering reasoning tests as a measure of academic potential. They measure fluid intelligence, an underlying ability that cannot be taught and is not affected by teaching, school or background.
Over 70% of secondary schools already use Cognitive Ability Tests and with an increasing number of primary and secondary schools using Vesparch (Verbal and Spatial Reasoning for Children), there is already a move towards using reasoning tests alongside school tests to identify putative potential and those underachieving at school relative to their potential.
These tests can help to identify children of any ability (not just those unable to reach national curriculum expected standards) who would benefit from additional educational support. The Vesparch tests in particular, limit the reliance on reading as everything is read aloud. The multiple choice format places less emphasis on memory requirement and helps to reduce anxiety. The tests also have no time limit – meaning that children can listen to the question as many times as they need and complete the entire test.
The data is age standardised – which means it takes age in years and months into consideration – and is instantly available to teachers. This allows educators to tailor teaching or provide support where necessary without the extra pressure of targets. These reasoning tests are not high stakes, the intention is to identify potential and ensure every child the opportunity to reach their potential.
In this way then, using reasoning tests alongside Sats would provide a fuller, more insightful view of every child’s potential and need. This is important, because it is, after all, the children that should be the priority in this situation.