Progress is not a straight line


As our English schools prepare to embark upon yet another round of Key Stage 2 SAT tests I wonder , as I usually do, as to the validity of the whole process.

I understand that these tests, which many schools have spent weeks and weeks in preparation for, are seen by the Government as marking the progress of the test takers from their last benchmark at aged 7. They are though, in reality, a test of the school and how many children it is able to get to a certain point as defined by the Government.

There is a basic idea underlying the validity of these tests  that they are about progress. We want children to make progress and therefore we need to see how much progress they have made. There is an expectation that I have heard stated so many times that children should make at least half a National Curriculum Level of progress in each academic year (thus a child starting at Level 2 in Year 3 of their primary school should achieve Level 4 by the end of Year 6).

In the real world though progress does not follow a consistent straight line. When we try and master something we may find that it seems almost impossible at first, that the penny drops at some stage, we gain proficiency and then we get better and better, unless of course we get bored and maybe don’t practice much and then we go backwards or stop still.

Human beings are not (contrary to some ideas) robots. We do not develop or learn in a steady way. A snapshot of our progress at a certain point may reflect a peak of development, an upturn in our appreciation and facility with a subject, a gradual or disastrous decline. The next stage may be just as difficult to ascertain.

We come back therefore to what these tests are for. Do they really help the child and show their progress? I do not think so, unless they are seen as part of a much wider picture of the child’s struggles and successes at gaining facility. Do they allow their next school to understand just where they are in this wonderful straight line of development? Again, many secondary schools will re-test the children because they do not trust the KS2 Tests and feel they need their own baseline in which to start the children when they get  to Year  7.  So the tests are for the Government to judge the schools, for the administrators to judge the teachers.

The true test of a child’s development is surely their work. I would rather that they would spend this week in continuing their portfolios (preferably electronic) that show their parents, teachers, Ofsted Inspectors, The Government, indeed anyone who may want to look… just what they can do as they traverse the rocky and inconsistent pathway towards mastery of a subject.


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