The Education Insider: Summative Testing

In her third post for us, education expert Jodie Lopez is discussing testing; the different ways to test and teach your children, and the negative impact high-stakes testing can have on both teachers and students.

Who are the tests for anyway?

There was an article in the TES recently regarding a new group called Parents and Teachers for Excellence who are being dubbed ‘education reformers’ and who backed many of Michael Gove’s policies. They have said they want to see more testing in schools. This has, of course, sparked a rather healthy debate over on Twitter and I am sure has caused a stir in many a school staff room, too. Assessment is a rather naughty word at the moment, following years of major changes (and some rather last minute changes over the last year regarding the new Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs). So for those teachers who watched the 47% of children who failed to make the new standard across all subjects for 2016, the teachers who watched the tantrums and tears (and maybe had a few of their own!), to mention more testing now is bound to invoke passionate responses.

However, is it the tests that are the problem? Or is it the high stakes results that are the sticking point?

When I was at school, many years back now, I remember having a primary school teacher who tested us every Friday morning on everything we had learnt in maths and English that week. The other teachers in the school didn’t do this, so it must have been his way of assessing and planning his lessons. He did it very effectively, too. It was very clear to me that whatever I struggled with in the tests could be covered with me at some point the following week – either 1:1 or via whole class teaching when it was clear that most students had struggled. I never felt that the tests were high stakes, for me or the teacher.

I had a secondary chemistry teacher who also tested us every Friday. I have the kind of memory that allows me to memorize information for a short period of time, so I aced those tests with 100% every Friday. But in the case of my chemistry knowledge, I actually didn’t retain any of it and my poor teacher, so convinced he had a science prodigy in his class, was amazed and dismayed when I received my ‘C’s in the Dual Award Science GCSEs. Although he tested us in much the same way that my primary teacher did, there must have been two major differences. Firstly, the way the tests were structured – it allowed for me to memorise exact work from my book rather than apply the knowledge to a new scenario. And secondly, what he did with the results. No-one in my class felt like they ever progressed in chemistry. It was just rote learning followed by rote forgetting.

In both cases, testing frequently was used and from the examples, I hope you can see that it can be a great tool or a terrible one, mostly dependent on what you do with the information and, of course, the quality of the test writing.

Well written tests designed to help a teacher pick up any gaps in knowledge and then use that to impact on future teaching and learning will have a great impact on results. I am personally in favour of low stakes testing as a means to impact on teaching. However, before you pick up the pitchforks, please note that I do not believe the high stakes testing in primary education at the moment is having a good impact on anyone – teachers or pupils. The DfE have consistently stressed that they do not want teachers to “teach to the test” or plan their curriculum around the content of the tests. But for as long as teachers and head teachers are being “moved on” following bad results, and for so long as Performance Related Pay exists, the culture will always feature teaching to the test.

So, we need to ask “Who are the tests for?” before we go adding in more tests at any Key Stage.

Jodie is an award winning ex-primary teacher who now works as a Freelance Edtech Consultant. Her interest in using technology in education has led to her working with a number of educational technology businesses since leaving the classroom. Most recently she has been Head of Education for an assessment system provider and has specialised in helping schools to transition to the new curriculum and leaving levels behind. Follow her on Twitter here.

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