Stop moaning about tests!

Today marked the end of 4 short days of testing. For Year 6 pupils everywhere, they’ll have spent less than 5 hours on tests – probably not for the first time this year – and later in the year we’ll find out how they did.

Now, I’m the first to complain when assessment isn’t working, and there are lots of problems with KS2 assessment. Statutory Teacher Assessment is a joke; the stakes for schools – and especially headteachers – are ridiculously high; the grammar test is unnecessary for accountability and unnecessarily prescriptive. I certainly couldn’t be seen as an apologist for the DfE. And yet…

For some reason it appears that many primary teachers (particularly in Facebook groups, it seems) are cross that some of the tests contained hard questions. I’ve genuinely seen someone complain that their low-ability children can’t reach the expected standard. Surely that’s the very reason they’re defining them as low ability?

Plenty of people seem annoyed that some of the questions on the maths test were very challenging. Except, of course, we know that some children will score 100% each year, so the level of challenge seems fair. There were also plenty of easier, more accessible questions that allowed those less confident mathematicians to show what they can do. It’s worth remembering that to reach the expected standard last year, just 55% of marks were needed.

But the thing that annoys me most is the number of people seemingly complaining that the contexts for problem-solving questions make the questions too difficult. Of course they do, that’s the point: real maths doesn’t come in lists of questions on a page that follow a straightforward pattern. What makes it all the more irritating is that many of those bemoaning the contexts of problems are exactly the same sort who moan about a tables test, complaining that knowing facts isn’t worthwhile unless you can apply them.

Well guess what: kids need both. Arithmetic knowledge and skills need to be secure to allow children to focus their energies on tackling those more complex mathematical problems. You can’t campaign against the former, and then complain about the latter.

The tests need to – as much as possible – allow children across the ability range to demonstrate their skill, while differentiating between those who are more and less confident. That’s where last year’s reading test fell down: too few accessible elements and too many which almost no children could access. This year’s tests were fair and did a broadly good job of catering for that spread. For those complaining about the level of literacy required, it’s worth remembering that questions can be read to children, and indeed many will have had a 1:1 reader throughout.

No test will be perfect, and there are plenty of reasons to be aggrieved about the chaos that is primary assessment at the moment, but blaming tests because not all children can answer all questions is a nonsense, and we’d do well to pick our battles more carefully!

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23 thoughts on “Stop moaning about tests!

  1. kitandrew 11 May 2017 at 8:58 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on KitAndrew.

  2. Mrs A 12 May 2017 at 12:39 am Reply

    Well said. I totally agree with you. If we moan about everything no one will listen to justified complaints. I thought the tests were fair and allowed all abilities to show their skills. The children enjoyed the challenge and did not feel that much stress during the tests. The stress came in the weeks before with parents and other “well-wishers” hyping them up.
    I do disagree with the way results are used. I just wish I could see how each child did, rather than having the papers whisked away and stuffed in envelopes to be posted off with out the chance to look through them. Believe it or not we still have a term left and I would like to know what areas they need to work on before sending them off to secondary.

  3. […] Source: Stop moaning about tests! […]

  4. Matt 12 May 2017 at 4:02 pm Reply

    I don’t like to moan about tests. But please can I moan about question 8 on the KS1 reading test. (not going to share detail of the test but those who know what do you think?)

    I agree with this entire sentiment. They are there for good reason. I actually cannot fault the revised approach to Mathematics. Replacing the audio “Mental Maths” test with the written arithmetic test is so much better. Especially as many of the “Mental Maths” questions were not Mental Maths. These new tests having watched children complete them are great.

    Another thing I am wondering though is why as a profession we spend all this time saying that the SATs bring too much pressure then we behave in odd ways. Even the most well -intentioned letter explaining to children that the tests don’t tell us how wonderful they really are would surely add to the overall feeling that they are really important. I don’t send a letter home each week telling them not to worry about how they get on in the assessments in any other year group. Schools allow Mascots in during test week – I don’t invite Teddy bears to sit on desks while we are doing handwriting sessions to give us luck… The list of oddities is endless. All these things could contribute to stress even when the intention may be to reduce it.

    At the end of the day we spend a huge amount of time teaching children in the Primary phase how to read, how to write and how to do Maths. We should want to use some form of test to see how they have done.

    • Michael Tidd 12 May 2017 at 5:41 pm Reply

      Agree entirely – apart from the bit about the reading question which I haven’t seen so can’t comment on 🙂

    • Felicity Gorwood 13 May 2017 at 5:52 am Reply

      I agree! It’s the way you ‘sell’ the process to the children (and parents) that causes the reaction. All of our children were happy throughout the week and came into school wanting to see what was on the papers and show how much they could do. Not once did we have a child upset ( and we do have some sensitive types!).
      I think the problem comes with the transition between acquiring skills and applying them-often with more than 1 concept at a time. This is where we need to be working on similar models of problem solving throughout the key stages so that the jump isn’t so big by Year 6. It’ll come with the right teaching in the preceding year groups. So, onto my theory….everyone should have a stint in Year 6!😜

  5. Luke Collie (@collie_le) 12 May 2017 at 10:17 pm Reply

    Nothing wrong with some questions being hard, but claiming it is “less than 5 hours” is spin worthy of an electioneering politician. My son’s class has done almost nothing but SATS revision and past paper practice this term, plus some the week before Easter, plus more past papers as holiday homework. Add in that they are all now exhausted an demotivated, and the difficulty of getting them back to doing new work for the rest of the year, and it will have cost at least 4 weeks, probably 6 out of the teaching year. All of this time adds nothing to what is learned about the children’s abilities, it is not for their benefit at all. Schools are driven to this because they are judged on the scores. They must teach to the test, even though they know they are damaging the education of the children in their care to do it.

    • Michael Tidd 13 May 2017 at 1:08 am Reply

      That’s an argument about the high stakes accountability framework rather than the tests. That may be valid, but not in contradiction to my point.

      • Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 13 May 2017 at 10:02 am Reply

        It is a contradiction to your point. The tests do not last 5 hours; the build up to them; the anxiety felt by children; the hours of practising to make sure they circle not underline and cross all ‘t’s; the time spent after the tests talking to the children and making sure they are feeling ok etc etc IS part of the testing process. How ridiculous.

  6. Hambo 13 May 2017 at 7:12 am Reply

    It wasn’t the context of some of the questions, but the way they were worded could be confusing – unnecessarily so. And this would be an easy thing to fix. Agree that the maths they had to do and the contexts were fair and in line with what we were expecting. Ultimately, I just don’t agree with doing the tests at all.

    • Michael Tidd 13 May 2017 at 6:59 pm Reply

      And opposing the tests altogether is a legitimate viewpoint. But shouldn’t be confused with the argument that the tests are bad because some questions are challenging.

  7. C Thomas 13 May 2017 at 8:49 am Reply

    I am disappointed that you feel you can be a member of a closed and supportive Facebook group and then decide to summarise that content in a public blog. Let down.

    • Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 13 May 2017 at 9:58 am Reply

      Agreed

  8. Plum Harrison 13 May 2017 at 9:13 am Reply

    My children passed with flying colours last year. (83% in all tests). This year my cohort struggled. They had worked their socks off. All I feel now is that I set them up for failure and have disengaged a group of children for the rest of their academic life. The message they received was hard work doesn’t help – those tests were harder! We are all entitled to an opinion (as are you) and that is all it is – not moaning.

    • Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 13 May 2017 at 9:57 am Reply

      Agreed

  9. Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 13 May 2017 at 9:56 am Reply

    Don’t you think that by complaining/moaning about Primary teachers complaining, you yourself are slightly hypocritical?
    Have you voiced your concerns on said Facebook groups? I haven’t seen it if so.. I am one of the members on these Facebook groups and although haven’t ‘moaned’ about any of the questions, I have found relief from reading posts from others who have experienced the same as me this week. Surely, if people want to share their views, they can do so without someone demeaning their worth!
    I am sure that you will have lost a lot of respect by writing this post; if you have a problem with people sharing their views on the groups you clearly ‘like’, then don’t be part of it at all.
    Bullying people to behave the way you want them to is wrong. Self righteous, bigoted people need to learn when to keep their mouths shut.

    • Michael Tidd 13 May 2017 at 7:00 pm Reply

      I entirely recognise the irony of the ‘stop moaning’ heading to my post. But do you not consider that your final two sentences are rather contradictory?

      • Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 14 May 2017 at 9:07 am Reply

        Nice twist now calling ‘irony’. Very see-through.
        Anyway, no I don’t see it as contradictory – I wasn’t the one who had nothing better to do than write a long blog demeaning a vast array of people. Get a grip.

        • Michael Tidd 14 May 2017 at 1:29 pm

          You don’t consider calling someone “self righteous” and “bigoted” or telling them “to keep their mouths shut” is bullying someone to behave the way you want?
          But telling people to stop moaning is?

        • Mrs Hilltop Hascienda 14 May 2017 at 4:44 pm

          Self-righteous = having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.
          Why do yoh feel ou have the right to put others down?
          Bigoted = obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, and intolerant towards other people’s beliefs and practices.
          Why did you feel your belief is more important than theirs?
          Are you telling me you weren’t acting in this way?
          I don’t see why people asking for reassurance or sharing opinions in a closed group discussion should be seen as moaning.
          What I do see is someone nit-picking about it even though they ‘like’ the group and have clearly found time to read ALL of the ‘moans’. Then, have the audacity to flaunt their opinions about it in a blog and not say anything in the group. That is bullying in my eyes.
          I have told you. I haven’t gone and written a blog about you. Maybe I should? Perhaps I will.
          Don’t like it, don’t read it, don’t be part of the group.
          Teaching is hard enough without having opinions ground down.
          They didn’t say anything demeaning about you, so don’t say anything about them. End of. So yes, someone does need to tell you to keep your mouth shut.

        • Michael Tidd 14 May 2017 at 4:46 pm

          I look forward to your blog 🙂

  10. mjlstories 13 May 2017 at 5:54 pm Reply

    I can completely understand those people complaining when their lower ability children cannot reach the expected standard. Only 55% needed to achieve this in Math last year but what % of children didn’t reach this? ( I genuinely don’t know as I left teaching in August last year.) What an appalling label to apply to those children already struggling. I find it interesting that in the end re-testing was thrown out. Imagine ‘failing’ key stage two Maths twice!
    We do need to pick our battles and think more clearly about what is really wrong with assessment, the uses of assessment and also the curriculum. (For example, is it the grammar test that’s a problem or the grammar curriculum?) After a week of testing perhaps what those ‘moaning’ are doing is expressing their concern for their pupils rather than being entirely logical, but that’s what teachers do – stick up for children.

  11. […] Stop moaning about tests!, by Michael […]

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