A yearly test? Bring it.

Right, a very small number of primary schools are seeing the evidence-based light and switching to knowledge-based curricula; hopefully this trend will continue and then we will be rid of this ‘Let the kids bumble their way through life not really learning, so long as they’re happy doing things that interest them’ nonsense once and for all. We’ve also got good things happening in maths and English (eg. phonics, proper SPG lessons, practice of standard algorithms and learning maths facts off by heart) in those schools where management are similarly enlightened.

A no-fuss test

It’s time to start thinking about some kind of simple, yearly national test so that everyone, including parents, really knows how a child is doing (IMO = how much effort they’re putting in). What would it look like and what would it test? First off, it would be MCQ style which is easier to mark (use the technology!) and could also test for misconceptions at the same time. All the children would need is a bit of extra paper to do their maths calculations on and this could, I guess, be attached to the paper as evidence with an additional box marked ‘Used formal algorithms’ for the teacher to fill in. Ah, they’d need a pencil too and to learn how to either tick/cross/colour in boxes. Then all the papers would be sent off to be fed through some kind of machine with the results winging their way back to schools and parents in no time at all. Too much paper? Let’s make it an online test then.

What’s in the test? Everything, hopefully, except extended writing. Certainly we could have science, maths, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, reading, history, geography, music theory, R.E…….all the knowledge. It would all take a couple of hours (in different sittings) and most children in primary schools do regular tests anyway in every year group, not just SATs year groups, so why not do this test instead? I would save the teachers hours and hours cross-referencing birthdates with standardised scores and creating enormous spreadsheets for the half termly progress meetings!

Now let’s deal with all the potential problems:

Child can’t read? Read the test to them then.

Child can’t hold a pencil? Have the TA fill in the test for them then.

Child doesn’t like tests? Tell them it’s a quiz, promise them a biscuit after and use positive language rather than making them internalise adult worries about mental health issues.

Child won’t sit still and be quiet? OK, this one’s a tough one because I think all children, with training, can learn to sit still (they do when they’re engrossed on the iPad, for example). We all, according to the science stuff I have read, have frontal lobes and can therefore learn the habits of inhibition. Child still won’t sit still and be quiet? They can do the test by themselves then, before or after school in smaller chunks of time.

Child prefers to play outside and would rather do ‘kinaesthetic learning’? Tell them that life isn’t about doing whatever we want, whenever we want.

Child might get distressed about results? Now, I don’t understand the fuss about KS2 SATs on this one either because children aren’t actually told if they’ve ‘passed’ or ‘failed’; the results (which, by the way, mention nothing about passing or failing, rather a scaled score and whether they have achieved the expected standard) go to the school and the parents and it is for the parents to decide what information is given to a child. If there are educators going around telling children that they’ve ‘failed’ a test, then these educators need to be reported. Anyway, back to my MCQ test: the results (raw percentage correct for each subject area and total ‘points’ score) should go to the parents with information about the national average so that they can get some sense of where their children are in relation to this. Then, the parent can choose whether to give their child their score accompanied by a piece of their mind as to how proud/disappointed they are.

Sure, some parents would end up getting an almighty reality check as to how little their child has chosen to learn, but some struggling parents might also feel good about how, despite working long hours for low wages and still struggling to pay the gas bill, all those tired moments spent reading with their child or assisting with homework have really paid off. Trust me, if your life is a bit shit and you feel ground down, finding out that your child is doing well is one of the most glorious and joyful moments for a parent. Further, we should never forget the impact that a father’s ‘I am proud of you, son,’ has on a young lad who is tempted to try and gain the ‘respect’ of peers who only want to see him act like a clown.

Parents really are an untapped resource and, contrary to the opinion of some educators who have rather low expectations of certain kinds of families, they all want their children to do well; over the past few years I have had to turn away many parents who wanted to find out the exact results of tests we administer in class as they were so desperate to know exactly how their child was doing. Why do we deny them this and what are we so afraid of? That they might find out the truth? A no-fuss test like this incentivises parents to take more of an interest in what their child is learning if they actually knew which subject areas children were being taught in that year (and would stop them from assuming that the purpose of a school is to only teach children to be happy). I’m sorry, but cross curricular topics like ‘The Seaside’ or ‘All about me’ on a school website tell parents nothing at all about which exact areas of history, geography or music theory they would be learning, especially if the accompanying spiel is all ‘Children will be using their skills of collaboration and creativity to evaluate their design and technology projects, incorporating their understanding of how different materials sourced from the local environment work together to recreate a famous landmark while discussing key science themes‘ rather than ‘Children are going to use loo rolls to make the leaning tower of Pisa and hopefully learn about structural integrity and gravity in a fun way‘.

So, let’s have a yearly test.

Who’s with me?



7 thoughts on “A yearly test? Bring it.

  1. Bravo! You could have mentioned a few more benefits, like the end of pointless but time-consuming teacher assessments, real data for ‘performance management’ (with the added advantage that useless teachers would see the handwriting on the wall and find work more suited to their abilities), and restoring teachers’ status as true professionals, rather than being treated like little children whose every move must be monitored. It would spell the end for certain ‘school improvement programmes’ which I won’t mention by name, but we all know who’s still peddling nonsense about collaborative learning and the like. And maybe teachers might be encouraged to further their own education, instead of enduring more INSET.

    One suggestion though–when Lord Bew conducted his review of KS2 SATs in 2011, Durham’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring and I both suggested the use of Computer Adaptive Tests, which are far less time-consuming than conventional tests and virtually eliminate the problems of gaming and teaching to test. Bew concluded that they were indeed the wave of the future, but that the profession wasn’t quite ready for them yet.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Y9 Sprogette had yearly tests back in KS2 i.e. the optional SATs papers. In fact they were termly and fed into teacher’s take on the child for parents’ evenings etc. I know some other schools around here did much the same, so it’s not an all-new, evil Gradgrindian proposal. We also didn’t didn’t hear about any child waking up at night screaming as a consequence, something that wouldn’t have escaped the attentions of that particular cohort’s quite erm.. efficient parental grapevine.

    The most controversial part in this is probably handing out results, but I always knew Sprogette’s scores in every test and the scores attained by a handful of children around her level, because she always knew and I always asked. All that was missing was a good way to hook that into the national picture. If you don’t have this stuff, then you can only respond with vacuous platitudes when they come home saying they got 47 in some maths test e.g. “That’s nice dear”.

    The hand-wringer’s secretive, extreme anti-labelling approach doesn’t work and the blinkered arrogance, “we know what’s good for them and you (parents)”, is quite infuriating. A teacher’s part in their life rarely extends beyond the end of the academic year, whereas that child is MY responsibility at least until they are settled into an independent adult life. Forewarned is forearmed. I want good information on where they are now, what to fret or relax about. That applies across the board, regardless of whether they are failing or succeeding in something.


    • Well said–children are competitive little sods, no matter how much the education system extols cooperation and collaboration. Mind, they’re not mutually exclusive traits. The belief that competition demotivates the losers is only true when tests attempt to measure higher-order thinking skills which are hopelessly unattainable for less-able pupils.who most likely will be doubly disadvantaged by not having mastery of the relevant knowledge upon which these skills depend. I’ve never delivered a lesson–in schools or in the military–which didn’t involve a short test at the end. And so long as the test is a fair measure of what the lesson taught, kids love it–even the ones with the lowest scores are chuffed to pieces because they’ve got it mostly right. This, along with constant use of (mostly) closed questions, also assures an attentive and engaged class.

      There was a time (and I’m old enough to remember it) when tests were an integral part of teaching and learning. As is so often the case, research has confirmed that those old-fashioned teachers knew by instinct what cognitive scientists are now re-discovering. And one of the most important–and neglected–discoveries is that routine testing is by far the most efficient and effective means of ensuring that learning is retained in long-term memory. This in turn all but guarantees good performance on summative tests, be they termly, annual or exit tests.


      • Suspect you could make a bell curve around ‘competitive’ where one extreme is children motivated to beat the test and the other is children motivated to beat their peers. Much of the children’s score comparing appears to be for much the same reason as mine i.e. to gain some sense of how well they did. A couple on my radar do that because they are desperately hoping to be the best, but they’re a minority.

        School actually had an elitist, invitation-only end-KS3 awards evening the other week although there was a large enough quantity of prizes to devalue them. Many were the more inclusive type rather than than academic, which didn’t trouble me. Most of the citations betrayed a strong bias towards progressive-friendly extrovert qualities with the remainder featuring apologetic phrases like “Although they are quiet..”, which was irksome. On balance it was enjoyable because the quiet, quirky test-beaters collected the very best academic prizes in their endearingly surprised and bashful ways. These ones will collaborate to good effect and are very supportive of each other, so that was also accompanied by looks of sincere delight amongst their pipped-to-big-prizes friends. A few fleeting dark glances crossed the faces of some cocky must-be-best kids of course, but that just made it feel more like the conclusion to a feel-good Spielberg movie.

        They’d probably hate it because limelight isn’t typically their thing, but I wish these quieter, conscientious types were held up as examples more often i.e. closing that garrulous mouth, listening properly then getting your head down does have benefits. This is Y9 so it has been a decade now and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen. I’ve obviously sat through lots of achievements assemblies and the like over the years, but straight-forward academic achievement has never been recognised in those.


  3. Just be wary of such a test being used as part of a teacher evaluation system (called Value Added Measurement here in the US)….absolute nightmare…..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s