Why do we rely on standardised tests to judge our own worth as teachers, educators, parents and students? Only by understanding why we are all complicit in a system we know to be damaging can we then together create an alternative.
How many teachers have you seen either crushed on elated on results day? Have you every asked them why? There is a prevailing cultural belief that children will never recover from a poor set of results, a cultural belief reinforced by recent tales of failure of the eleven plus. How many teachers have you seen who looked relieved because the results their students achieved mean that they are ‘safe’ for another year. I’ve known teachers avoid staff rooms after poor results because they feel ashamed and judged by colleagues. A local head teacher committed suicide before results were made public last year. I’m quite sure that everyone reading this is already thinking of a teacher they know who has been affected in this way. We have a recruitment and retention crisis and we are losing good teachers because of this.
“Teachers who fail to prepare students for tests are often branded, ‘bad teachers’. Peers in this situation may ‘doubt their colleagues competence’, including questioning their integrity, and their colleagues allegiance to the schools mission to improve test scores” Booher-Jennings
So do standarised tests help children, are they a ‘necessary evil’? Do they inform our teaching? Is the time, energy, pressure and resources put into testing our children actually worth it. Do they tell us anything? I would argue that standardised tests only tell us which children are good at taking standardised tests.
“An unflinching faith in science suggest that student test scores are able to accurately and objectively measure student achievement and are, therefore, perhaps the only acceptable way to evaluate students, schools, and educators” William Smith
What about the impact of high stakes testing on children’s mental health and well-being?
Dr Carol Fuller, associate professor of education and assistant director of research at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education, said: “That children’s wellbeing is on the decline, particularly amongst those aged 14-15, is hardly surprising given the huge amount of stresses placed on them.
“For example, at this age we are asking them to make educational choices that will have consequences for the rest of their lives. We also live in a society that makes judgements about you based on your level of educational ‘success’, so the pressure to achieve is extraordinary as they enter this period of their lives.”
Do standarised tests help parents? Do they inform parental choice? If we view parents as consumers, and ignore the argument that in reality there is no parental choice for the vast majority of parents, they perhaps we think testing is necessary. Do parents choose schools on the basis of perceived academic quality or distance from home, religion, views of neighbors etc?
More than two-thirds of parents (67%) said a school’s location, easily accessible from home or work, was a crucial factor.
Asked to name the five most important qualities they wanted in a school:
- 54% listed supportive staff
- 39% a good inspection report
- 38% a track record on dealing with bad behaviour and bullying
- 36% good buildings and facilities
- 21% good league table position
What about governments? Can high stakes standardised testing be used to judge governments? As much as I love using a statistical stick to give this government a beating I don’t believe that PISA tells us anything. Do higher PISA results actually mean the government has better education polices or that they have learnt how to game the system.
PISA reasoning applauds superior test performance as a testimony for superior polices…solely attributing success in international testing is inattentive to the education effects of national history and culture.
Feniger, Lefstein, Alexander
How much do SATs cost? Schools are facing huge cuts in funding, “Secondary schools in England face the steepest cuts to funding since the 1970s, according to analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that reveals differences in spending of nearly £20,000 per pupil during their time in the classroom.” Is high stakes standarised testing worth the money?
The total annual cost of administering standard attainment tests (SATs) for key stages 1 and 2 (producing, administering, marking, moderating, delivering etc). Details from the most recent year possible and a breakdown of the costs, if available.
The Standards and Testing Agency (STA) is responsible for developing and delivering the key stage 2 statutory national curriculum tests (which you refer to as SATs) tests, the key stage 1 phonics screening check as well as other non-statutory tests.
In the financial year 2012 to 2013, STA’s annual programme budget was £35.7m and the administration budget was £5.4m. The 2012 to 2013 expenditure (once signed off) will be included within STA’s annual report which will be published on the GOV.UK website. (This should be available by the end of July 2013).
The latest available expenditure details are for financial year 2011 to 2012 and the table below gives the requested breakdown. Please note that STAwas created as an executive agency of the Department for Education in October 2011 and so the expenditure is for 6 months only (ie October 2011 to March 2012).
All of these costs are before the huge overhaul of primary assessment during last year, they don’t include the failed Baseline Assessment work, the dropped SPAG test after early ‘publication’ etc, it would be really interesting to see the total costs of primary assessment for 2015-16 which I wouldn’t even attempt to estimate. There is also the cost to parents as parents are choosing to invest in home tutoring, so much for our meritocracy.
Employing someone to help your child pass their 11-plus exam, or scrape a crucial “C” at Maths GCSE is today common practice for millions of middle-class parents, who consider it no more of an indulgence than a weekly trip to Pizza Express.
An estimated 24 per cent of pupils have used a tutor over the last year, with that figure rising to 40 per cent in London. You will struggle to get their parents to admit to it, though. “Sex and tutors – those are the two things you never hear discussed at the school gates,” says Janette Wallis, senior editor of The Good Schools Guide.
Yet the growth in private tutoring has caused serious concerns among many parents, teachers and even tutors, with one head teacher calling it “endemic”, and a phenomenon that risks causing social divisions just as great as private schooling.
I find that the more I read about the “cultural norms” that justify our high stakes testing culture, that is dripping down through our education system to the very first year children start school, the more bewildered and angry I become. If this system of high stakes testing damages teachers, children, cannot be used to judge governmental policy and tells parents nothing why are we still doing it?
I look forward to reading your comments.