Friday 13 May 2016

SATS: Why I Disagree with Too Much Testing

My older son is sitting his SAT’s this week and as every year the debate has kicked off about whether the SAT’s are a good idea or not. These are Standard Assessment Tests that are given at the end of Year 2 and then again in Year 6 of primary school. The children are tested over the course of a few days in maths and English (reading and spelling, punctuation and grammar). The tests started out in an attempt to gauge how well teachers and schools are doing and grew into the tests we have today where schools are under pressure to push the children to make them do well at the tests.

My daughter did hers two years ago and my advice to her was relax and try your best. With my son, I noticed his teacher was really pushing the kids to prepare, so I asked him if the results were used anywhere (I know a bit naïve). He confirmed they were used by high schools to determine which ability streams/levels children should be working it. I arranged for a few hours of tuition for my son and encouraged him to have a go at some practise books. Beyond that I was not keen to put pressure on him.

The whole process of testing young children and then using results gained at a young age to determine the child’s learning in completely different subjects seems entirely wrong to me. The children get tested again when they start high school (CAM tests), but both sets of results are taken into consideration.

At the same time there are the changes in GCSE’s which children take at age 15-16 at the end of high school. We were recently invited to my daughter’s secondary school for the teachers to give us a run through of the changes and what it will mean for my child. It means tougher subjects, for instance part of the maths A ‘level curriculum will be in the GCSE and you will have to memorise passages of Shakespeare for English as you can no longer take your books into the exam. There will be no testing at the end of Year 10 (4th year of high school) and no coursework to spread the marks out so that children with different learning styles can have a chance at a decent grade. Five years of intensive study and then one test at the end of Year 11. These poor kids better have good memories for their one shot at getting the grade they need. Oh, and the grades are also changing to numbers instead of letters.

When I look at the wealth of learning and knowledge around us today, it makes me wonder why we have to learn and retain chunks of knowledge. Google can tell you anything in seconds, YouTube has tutorials for everything and there are numerous experts, free courses and coaches for whatever you need to learn. So what makes someone stand out as an employee, an entrepreneur or an activist is not the knowledge they have, but how they use it. Their innovation, how creative they are, their confidence in coming forward with their ideas and collaborating with others, even their self-belief will propel them forward into the world.

I believe that these tests are stifling our children and creating stress for them unnecessarily. The GCSE’s will leave us with kids trying to cram their heads with knowledge, but not able to challenge what they have learned or be creative with their learning, two truer signs of real learning. Then we will have the inevitable complaints from employers and industry saying that young people are leaving schools unfit for work.

More and more this is why approaches to learning such as “unlearning” appeal to me: less structured, allowing the child to take the lead, learning as something you do constantly, not in set periods or with a set curriculum. I also believe that a happy childhood sustains you for the rest of your life. The opportunity to play, to investigate the world, to let your curiosity lead you teaches you how to behave as an adult. The memories sustain you through the toughest times. 

For these reasons, I have been supporting my son through this week, asking him how his day and the test went, but allowing him to enjoy his evening relaxing and reminding him that if he gave it a good shot, then that is enough for me.

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