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Did 14 years of tests show us the man or the journey ahead?

Amanda Godfrey, Executive Head at Spiral Partnership Trust, discusses the lessons she's learnt about school assessments

Posted by Lucinda Reid | June 15, 2017 | School life

Today my son takes his last ever exam.  Born in 1994 he has the misfortune to be one of the most tested of cohorts and has had the pleasure of an array of end of year exams every year since he was six years old, including the full set of keystage 1, 2 and 3 SATs.  So what has so much testing taught us over the years? Do the SATs results echo Aristotle’s confident claim: ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’?

His infant baseline suggests an early strength in maths but generally confirm that he was young and barely ready for school. By the end of KS1 he was a level two in all subjects. The KS1 results show little evidence of any strengths or difficulties that might unfold.  Optional SATs results were diligently reported all the way through KS2, targets set and generally achieved. He left primary school with a mix of level 4 & 5’s; teacher assessment was higher than test results, maths and science were slightly stronger but there were still no clues to any strengths that might develop.

So what did the child and the parent, learn from this mountain of test data? What did they tell us about the adult that would emerge?

Secondary school took target setting and assessments to a whole new level, with termly updates on attainment in every subject and targets set. The KS3 results showed a growing difference between teacher assessment and test results particularly in reading and writing, teacher assessment was consistent across the subjects but the test results were starting to show a gap.  GCSE results confirmed that gap; A’s in maths and science and a hard earned B for English. Eleven years into the test regime and the first signpost to a future pathway?

A-levels showed little relationship between the GCSE grades and the final outcome; the A in physics was a distant memory by the time physics was abandoned in year 12. The AS results were a pivotal moment, it was clear some gates were opening but others were firmly closing.  For the first time the options had been shortlisted and choices illuminated.

Since joining reception class in 1999 the data collect has produced close to 100 separate test results for English, maths and science and even more targets. So what did the child and the parent, learn from this mountain of test data? What did they tell us about the adult that would emerge?  The truth is very little.  Assessment outcomes didn’t clearly signpost any particular direction until the final leg of the journey. There were few consistent themes along the way and little evidence of a young scientist in the making.  But there has been learning; resilience and anxiety management have been key survival skills. 

Whilst the results themselves didn’t foretell of a Masters degree or a career in science, there were some clues.  From the early years of his primary school experience teachers have commented on an enthusiasm for learning, a keen interest in science, an enquiring mind and positive attitude – I wish we’d known they were the assessment results we should have been listening to. Like Aristotle, the teachers saw the qualities in the child that would emerge in the man but for 14 years’ test data failed to show us the man or the journey ahead.

For more information about the Spiral Partnership Trust, visit their website.  

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