Issues Surrounding The Sats Education Essay

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Assessment is a key process in education. It is only through assessment that we can determine whether instruction has had its intended effect. The methods used to assess range from summative assessments, a simple observation to form a teacher's subjective opinion, to formal testing or examinations (summative assessment). Both formative and summative assessments are used to assess a pupil's attainment, advancement, target group placement, teacher instruction and access to the curriculum. Understanding with depth and clarity the current knowledge that a pupil possesses is arguably the most integral aspect of teaching and learning. It may therefore be assumed that assessment should be reasonably uncontroversial. All of those who have a stake in the outcomes of education want to know that pupils are making sufficient progress. It seems plausible that this can easily be evaluated through the use of straightforward and familiar instruments, such as achievement tests. However, standardised testing is a highly controversial and well debated topic, with vast amounts of negativity surrounding external summative assessments in terms of their reliability and their benefits to a child's learning and progress.

Assessment in education has seen a huge rise in popularity since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988. Primarily, it is the means by which governments are able to measure the educational output of any given school against other schools locally and nationally, with the expectation of raising educational standards, and secondly, teachers have increasingly realised the value of continuous assessment for informing them of and guiding them in their teaching process.

This assignment will discuss

Issues surrounding SATS

the benefits of summative assessments, such as accountability, standardisation etc

cons of AOL, including stress to teachers/pupils, teaching to tests, political agendas

the combination of formative/summative

Using summative info formatively

The objective of summative assessment strategies, also known as 'Assessment of Learning' (AOL), is to measure the standard of attainment obtained at the end of a taught unit, by comparing it against defined standards and benchmarks. Examples of summative assessments include the Foundation Stage Profile (FSP), Standards Assessment Tests (SATS) and formal teacher assessments. The empirical evidence collated from this is used to check the progress or attainment of the pupil in relation to areas of the National Curriculum. The most recognised and debated example of primary summative testing is the high-profile Standard Attainment Tests (SATs). These are taken nationally at the end of Key Stage 1 and 2 and have been an integral aspect of summative assessment in primary education since their introduction in the 1990s. The key rationale of SATs was to 'genuinely give information about how children were doing in the National Curriculum' (Sainsbury and Sizmur, 1996). Subsequently, this would provide data for national and local benchmarking purposes. Utilising this data effectively is essential as it can enable schools to deduce whether children are meeting age-related expectations. If they have deviated from national expectations, targets can be reviewed and necessary provisions or interventions can be implemented. The assessment of pupil achievement and record of their progress can also give an indication and evidence for teacher and school effectiveness.

However, this has attracted considerable criticism, not only from teachers and parents, but also from education researchers and government officials (Yarker, 2003). This criticism stems from the notion that the key rationale is not being adhered to. They argue that the most important reason for collating the test results is not to determine individual children's attainment levels, but instead to compare the overall attainment of one school with others by the use of league tables, causing intense pressure on schools to perform. The House of Commons' Children, Schools and Families Select Committee said in January 2010: "Schools feel so constrained by the fear of failure according to the narrow criteria of the performance tables…". SATS are classed as 'high stakes', with many implications for individual teachers and schools as a whole. Teachers feel personally accountable for their pupils' results (Connors et al, 2009). They are responsible for the academic progress of the children in their class, and therefore feel that the marks children achieve reflect their competence as practitioners. Subsequently, intense pressure is placed in order to maintain or improve the school's position in the SATs league tables, and also to meet national targets. Data is used in local and national statistics which may affect the school's popularity or funding opportunities. According to Professor Peter Tymms, of Durham University, formal testing can "generate unhealthy pressure on teachers and pupils and this leads to a narrowing of the curriculum". This narrowing, according to research by Connors et al (2009), is primarily caused by children being 'taught to the test' in the time preceding formal testing. This methodical approach, it is argued, may be disadvantageous to a child's learning. Hall (2010) noted that teachers can also be inclined to adopt 'transmission styles' of teaching, which reduces creativity in the curriculum. If schools provide heavily SATs-focused lessons, children are taught 'examination technique rather than developing the knowledge and skills the test is designed to assess' (Hall et al, 2004). This limits a holistic approach to their education, as this teaching method revolves around memory and repetition, rather than skills and application. Because teachers are limited as to how far they can deviate from the curriculum, the scope for creativity in these lessons is greatly reduced.

Nevertheless, performance tables derived from formal testing are a major part of schools accountability systems. Adequate accountability for delivering high quality education should be a non-negotiable principle. Government publications, such as The Cambridge Review did not oppose testing pupils. It agrees that schools should be accountable, yet this needs to be achieved without damaging the breadth of the curriculum. Many schools feel the need to maximise test and examination results in ways which involve teaching to the test and other harmful practices. This may be due to schools' perceptions of the way in which performance data is used. According to the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee "parents did not view performance tables in isolation and formed judgements based on a range of evidence, including inspection outcomes, the views of other parents and other local intelligence" pg 71. Nonetheless, the way data is interpreted is significant because consequences of poor test scores may include public censure and risk a reduction of student numbers, and consequently funding, as parents seek to send their children to a 'better' schools. A declining standing can also present serious issues in terms of recruiting and retaining the high quality staff necessary to improve the schools standing. This is intensified further by the use of testing as fuel for those with political agendas. Education is high on the political agenda and rightfully so, yet the catalyst of this debate is often test scores and league tables. Test scores are often looked at as the epitome of school success. However, this displays little appreciation or knowledge of what education and learning is truly about. Assessments are of little importance unless they directly improve the educational outcomes for children.

The Department maintained that parents did not use

.266

Yet other witnesses asserted that parents and teachers used the published data without any

understanding of their inherent statistical uncertainty, driving schools to take extreme

measures to improve their performance data.267 The two views are not necessarily

mutually exclusive: it is the fear of some schools that the data might be used without

understanding which drives them to maximise their statistics.

A strong case can be made for the motivational role of external examinations and tests. Kellaghan, Madaus and Raczek (1996) identified six propositions put forward in favour of this role. These are: that tests and examinations indicate standards; that high ('world class') standards can be demanded; that they exemplify to students what they have to learn; that rewards and penalties can be applied to the results; that students will put effort into school work in order to pass tests; that this will be the case for all students. Most, if not all, of these propositions underpin summative assessment programmes such as state-mandated tests in the US, the national examination systems for 16 to 19 year olds in the UK and in many other countries, and the national curriculum tests in England and Wales.

This involves classroom activities such as children learning how to answer typical SATs questions and the taking of practice tests, in addition to the delivery of the National Curriculum in the relevant subjects. In some respects, this can be beneficial to children. For example, they should be well prepared for the type of questions that will be posed in the SATs; it might be concluded from this that they will gain higher marks. Moreover, it may positively impact on children's behaviour, as argued by Hall et al (2004), where the taking of practice tests improves children's concentration and greatly reduces classroom disruption, as they regularly need to display these attributes under test conditions.

Nevertheless, by doing so,

Subsequently, these assessments should 'provide an authentic reflection of the kinds of work children have to do in following the curriculum' (Sainsbury and Sizmur, 1996). This can inform planning and evaluation, a key focus for teaching and learning whilst potentially raising teaching standards.In the second instance, they argue that the tests, and their implementation, do not accurately reflect the range of educational tasks undertaken by children in school: by posing a series of predominantly closed questions under strict, timed test conditions, all the test results indicate is a level of the children's competence at taking tests, and not their ability in the subject in question.

According to Wintle and Harrison (1999), these test results are 'the most significant performance indicator used by teachers, inspectors, parents and other professionals.' However, one major component group is missing from this statement: the children taking the tests. It is crucial to examine the issues surrounding the impact that SATs have on these children, so that an overall view of the situation can be established. These issues can be split into three broad categories. Firstly, it is important to consider how and why children's learning is affected by SATs. Secondly, children's attitudes, both towards this aspect of their schooling and likewise to the test itself, need to be discussed and analysed. Finally, it is vital to examine the emotional effects SATs have on children, and the causes and consequences of these effects.

Another way in which SATs impact upon children's learning concerns the fact that an increasing percentage of the school timetable is being dedicated to the teaching of the SATs subjects, according to research by Webb (2006). Although English, Maths and Science, due to their long-established importance across all Key Stages, have always featured prominently in the school schedule, the danger exists that a disproportionate amount of the school week will be spent on the teaching and learning of these subjects, primarily caused by the teachers' feeling of personal accountability (Connors et al, 2009). Consequently, the rest of the primary curriculum subjects, especially art, music and physical education (Webb, 2006) may not have as much time devoted to them. This would adversely affect the children's right to receiving a broad and well-balanced primary school curriculum. Taking this potential curricular imbalance a stage further, some schools organise weekend and after-school SATs clubs, and some parents enlist private tutors for extra SATs coaching sessions (Byrne and McGavin, 2004). On a positive note, these courses of action may help to increase children's confidence and competence in the target subjects. However, these constant levels of coaching, both during and after school hours, may change children's attitudes towards SATs-orientated teaching and learning, and their eventual participation in the tests themselves.

According to research by Connors et al (2009), some children, especially those taking the Key Stage Two SATs, regard both the prior preparation and the test itself to be ways of challenging themselves at school. This sense of 'challenge' can increase children's motivation and application levels in the classroom (Drummond, 2003), as children try to meet the demands of an increasing, more intense academic workload, and acquire new knowledge and skills. What is unclear, however, is whether these increased motivation and application levels are mirrored in non-SATs subjects. Another positive aspect of the 'challenge' of SATs is that many children associate hard work with higher marks (Webb, 2006), which can be an additional motivational factor. Although it could be argued that aptitude, rather than attitude, contributes to higher levels of achievement, it is nevertheless important to encourage this positive thinking. This idea is extended on a social level by Byrne and McGavin (2004), who argue that the achievement of higher marks can add a competitive element to educational proceedings, as children try to achieve more highly than their peers do. However, it is important to note that this has the potential to cause emotional distress to the child who does not perform as well as others, even if the 'competition' is meant to be friendly and light-hearted.

In contrast, many children have a much more negative attitude towards SATs and the teaching and learning associated with it. Referring back to the 'challenge' of SATs, according to research by Hall et al (2004), some children, rather than viewing them as a challenge to be overcome, regard them instead as either 'a bridge too far' or, even worse, 'a complete waste of time'. In the case of these children, these negative attitudes may be caused by a variety of factors. For example, they may be lower achievers who find the increased intensity of, and the amount of time devoted to, SATs preparation difficult to cope with. This can cause them to become disillusioned about the SATs, which, in turn, can have an adverse effect on their behaviour and motivation levels. At Key Stage Two level, many schools place children into ability groups in the SATs subjects (Webb, 2006); this can alleviate this problem to a certain extent, as their individual learning needs can be more appropriately catered for. Nevertheless, it could be argued that, although the level and pace of such learning would be more appropriate for lower achieving children, this solution does not directly address these children's possible concerns about the amount of time allocated to the SATs subjects. A further concern for lower achieving children, according to Yarker (2003), is that, if they do not achieve what they consider to be 'good' marks in the tests themselves, they will be 'labelled as failures'. It is, however, important to clarify that these children are never 'labelled' in this way by teachers, but by the children themselves, who are concerned about the effect that SATs results will have on their future, both academically and motivationally.

Another factor that may cause children to have a negative attitude towards the SATs is highlighted by Wintle and Harrison (1999), who argue that the concentration on SATs preparation is linear and regimented to such an extent that children no longer have any 'ownership' of it. This can have a distinct attitudinal effect on the children. They may become disillusioned by the fact that, because of the focus on SATs work, they are simply undertaking activities and tasks for the sake of knowing how to do them for SATs purposes, rather than for the benefit of their own learning. Cullingford (2006) echoes this view, stating that, with regard to SATs preparation, 'children perceive their task in school as not so much to think as to guess what it is that the teachers want'.

Moreover, further research conducted by Cullingford (2006) suggests that many children, particularly those at Key Stage Two level, are surprisingly aware of 'the importance of SATs' and even 'the significance of league tables'. It can therefore be argued that they consider SATs to be one of the most, if not the most crucial aspect of their schooling during the final year of each Key Stage. This attitude can have a positive or adverse effect on their commitment to the SATs and the preparation for them; again, this depends on the attitude and aptitude of individual children.

This surprisingly common awareness of the importance of both the SATs and the results they achieve in them is one way in which children can become not only attitudinally affected, but also emotionally affected by them. In this instance, because of the strong focus on preparing for the tests, children may feel pressurised, and in many cases excessively so, for two main reasons. Firstly, according to a study by Connors et al (2009), some children put themselves under pressure to perform well because they have 'worrisome thoughts and concerns about the consequences of failure' if they do not. It could be argued that this level of worry should have no place in the mind of a child of primary school age, although it does further illustrate the importance the children place on SATs. Secondly, many children realise that SATs results are important to their teachers; consequently, the children also perceive them as important (Webb, 2006). This realisation, generally speaking, is a subconscious one: the children are not told outright by the teacher that the SATs are important. Instead, the curricular focus on the preparation for the SATs signifies their importance in the children's minds. Furthermore, if the children respect their teacher (the way they should in an ideal situation), then they may feel under pressure to perform well in the SATs to attempt to prove that their teacher has taught them well, thus enhancing their reputation. One final important point about this kind of pressure is that it may not necessarily have a negative effect on all children; conversely, some children may thrive on it, and work harder and achieve higher as a consequence.

It can be argued that any increase in pressure will increase the likelihood of stress and anxiety, particularly in the case of children, who will not have had the experience of coping with such pressure increases at this stage of their lives. According to Yarker (2003), children, particularly at Key Stage One level, become stressed through constant 'teaching to the test' and test practice, due to both its intensity, and its implementation to the apparent exclusion of the rest of the curriculum. However, Byrne and McGavin (2004), whilst acknowledging the stress that this may cause to children, argue that it is the thought of, and the participation in, the tests themselves that cause the highest levels of stress and anxiety in children. In certain severe cases, research has even discovered a direct link between these SATs related stress levels that can be detrimental to the child's health and their life outside school, such as loss of sleep (Yarker, 2003), loss of appetite (Hall et al, 2004) and headaches (Connors et al, 2009).

With regard to children's emotions about the prospect of being formally tested, some children were 'excited' and were looking forward to taking the tests, according to a survey by Connors et al (2009). A possible reason for this could be the fact that they may regard the tests as the culmination of their hard work, and they offer them the chance to put their newly acquired skills and knowledge into practice. They can prove to themselves and to their teachers that they have learnt what the tests require them to learn. In contrast, other children can display signs of nervousness and apprehension during the period immediately prior to taking the tests (Connors et al, 2009). Reasons for this could include the fear of getting a 'poor' result, which may not only adversely affect their self-esteem, but may also make the child think that their teacher (and possibly their parents and their peers) will think less of them as a result. They may also worry that they have not worked hard enough, or not achieved enough in the target subjects to obtain the level that they want to achieve. Furthermore, children can often have problems during the taking of the test itself (Byrne and McGavin, 2004), not only for the aforementioned reasons, but also due to other factors. For instance, many children, particularly at Key Stage One level, may find it difficult to formulate answers and recall previous learning and knowledge under the pressure of timed test conditions. Furthermore, if the child is not in a prepared, focused frame of mind before the test starts, this can affect their performance on the day, which could lead to a lower, potentially misleading test result.

In conclusion, it is clear from the evidence that primary schools take the process of preparing children for the SATs tests very seriously. However, the way in which this issue is approached depends on the individual school concerned, and the ways in which they implement their teaching and classroom procedures. One thing remains constant, though. Regardless of the methods used, and the reasoning behind them, SATs will have an academic, attitudinal and emotional impact on children's education in the final year of each Key Stage. Although the evidence available has predominantly shown a bias towards SATs having a negative impact in these respects, they can have a positive impact under the right physical and mental conditions. In the same way that the approach to SATs depends on the individual school, the level and the inclination of the impact depends on the individual child, and their individual level of aptitude, dedication, self-belief and resolve.

Reference List / Bibliography

•Byrne, K. & McGavin, H. (2004) A parent's guide to primary school. London: Continuum

•Connors, L. et al (2009) Causes and consequences of test anxiety in Key Stage 2 pupils: the mediational role of emotional resilience. In: British Educational Research Association Annual Conference. University of Manchester, 2-5 September 2009.

•Cullingford, C. (2006) Pupils' views of the school experience. In Webb, R. (ed) Changing teaching and learning in the primary school. Maidenhead: Open University Press

•Drummond, M. J. (2003) Assessing children's learning. London: David Fulton

•Fielding, S. et al (1999) The (mis)use of SATs to examine gender and achievement at Key Stage 2. Curriculum Journal, 10 (2), pp. 169-187

•Gipps, C. V. (2002) Beyond testing: towards a theory of educational assessment. London: Routledge Falmer

•Green, C. et al (2001) Children put the national tests to the test. Education 3-13, 29 (3), pp. 39-42

•Hall, K. et al (2004) SATurated models of pupildom: assessment and inclusion/exclusion. British Educational Research Journal, 30 (6), pp. 801-817

•Headington, R. (2003) Monitoring, assessment, recording, reporting and accountability: meeting the standards. London: David Fulton

•Sainsbury, M. & Sizmur, S. (1996) Curriculum-based assessment and the search for authenticity. In Sainsbury, M. (ed) SATs the inside story: the development of the first national assessments for seven-year-olds, 1989-1995. Slough: NFER

•Tennent, W. et al (2008) Assessing reading at Key Stage 2: SATs as measures of children's inferential abilities. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4), pp.431-446

•Webb, R. (2006) Teachers' perspectives on teaching and learning in a performativity centre. In Webb, R. (ed) Changing teaching and learning in the primary school. Maidenhead: Open University Press

•Whetton, C. (2009) A brief history of a testing time: national curriculum assessment in England 1989-2008. Education Research, 51 (2), pp. 137-159

•Wintle, M. & Harrison, M. (1999) Coordinating assessment practice across the primary school. London: Falmer Press

•Yarker, P. (2003) The hours of folly: settling accounts with SATs. Forum, 45 (3), pp. 98-101

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schools to determine if they are teaching effectively, by the comparison of their whole-school and pupils' performance against national results..

These are used by governments to assess the educational output of individual schools and published in League Tables (Q12, Q13)

testing holds teachers and schools accountable. Probably the greatest benefit of standardized testing is that teachers and schools are responsible for teaching students what they are required to know for these standardized tests. This is primarily because these scores become public record and teachers and schools who don't perform up to par can come under intense scrutiny. This scrutiny can lead to the loss of job and in some cases a school can be closed or taken over by the state.

testing allows students located in various schools, districts, and even states to be compared. Without standardized testing this comparison would not be possible. Public school students in the state of Texas are all required to take the same state standardized tests. This means that a student in Amarillo can be compared to a student in Dallas. Being able to accurately compare data is invaluable and is a major reason that the Common Core State Standards have been adopted. These will allow for a more accurate comparison between states.

esting is typically accompanied by a set of established standards or instructional framework which provide teachers with guidance for what and when something needs to be taught. Without this structure a third grade teacher and a sixth grade teacher could be teaching the same content. Having this guidance also keeps students who move from one school district to another from being behind or ahead their new school.

tests are objective in nature. Classroom grades given by a teacher are at the very least minimally subjective in nature. Standardized tests are often scored by computers or at the very least scored by people who do not directly know the student. They are also developed by experts and each question undergoes an intense process to remove bias.

tests provide accurate comparisons between sub-groups. These sub-groups can include data on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, special needs, etc. This provides schools with data to develop programs and services directed at improving scores in these sub-groups.

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