SATs: Harsh but not fair? by @sirmobbsalot

SATs in England: This is my sixth time waiting for KS2 results. It is the first time I have tried to wait up for them but Summer 2 tiredness won; instead I had crazy dreams of 0% until finally I awoke at 3.37 and had to check. It was excitement more than anything - knowing how hard my children, team and I have worked this year I knew we were going to demolish our terrible results from last year.

Through bleary eyes, in the tired morning light and glow from my mobile phone, I refreshed NCA tools and pressed the “Pupil Results” tab. Column 1 shows reading and my pupil at the top of the list (secure all year on every assessment he has done and a scaled score of 108 on last years test) shows 99 - uh oh! This pattern continued as I read down the list and counted my 100+ over and over again. Surely there must be some mistake…

As my pillow tried to recover from a brutal right hook and my phone tried to come to terms with the sensation of flying, I considered what could have happened. I recovered my phone and pressed the “scaled score” link. I blinked hard and pressed refresh… I must be still asleep because I am sure I read that the threshold was 26. NCA tools refreshed and I read it again, after dunking my face in a sink full of water - hoping it would wake me from a nightmare.

After each refresh it said the same … 100 = 26 = EXS

I knew last year was 21 but I couldn’t believe that it would increase by so much so I tiptoed downstairs, trying not to wake my 20 month year old and wife, and loaded my laptop onto the school server. Last years’ documents confirmed: 100 = 21 = EXS (equivalent to a 96 scaled score this year) Over 30% of my pupils, who have worked themselves to a stand still this year, fell into the bracket of 96 to 99 scaled score - good enough for last year but not this year.

I understand that last year was deemed ‘harder’ and this year was deemed ‘easier’ but I don’t think it was so easy that 11 year olds should have to score +24% marks than last year to achieve EXS. Yes the maths and GPS thresholds were lowered and Yes we did a lot better in these subjects but the reading scores really hurt!

I have read many great blogs and twitter posts encouraging year 6 teachers to not feel responsible for outcomes as it is a “Key Stage” test. @thatboycanteach wrote a fantastic, supportive blog to all year 6 teachers but aimed at his own team… he also wrote one in the past about his feelings after receiving poor results. Guilt, self-doubt, worry.

This is what came over me. I am English Lead. Reading is the crux of English and I have not been able to deliver acceptable scores (by my standards) this year or last year. Perhaps I am not the person to lead Year 6, KS2 or English. This is how the results from 60 mins of high pressure, high stakes testing made me and I’m sure hundreds of others feel and for what?

I have never really questioned the system before, perhaps naïvely accepting that it is what it is and I am an agent to ensure that outcomes are where they need to be. At 3.48 though, this changed. I am now questioning the system massively, especially after reading some of the fallout on twitter and the huge spectrum of views. I know for a fact that many people will disagree with what I am about to write but I feel I have to say what I think because I am sure that others will agree.

I feel that the moving threshold is designed to make sure a significant proportion of children in Year 6 do not reach the expected standard. It seems that there must be significant failure to ensure that the Government have something to improve or create a ground-breaking initiative for.

I work at a school where Free School Meal children make up 75+% and our charges have extremely challenging home lives (I won’t go into it here but I can’t imagine how I would cope with what my heroic class deal with). We work with a no excuses policy and expect that achievement will be no different to anywhere else. We provide interventions, boosters and as much support that is humanly possible. We also pride ourselves in nurturing children and making them excellent members of society! This is why it is so devastating to see so many of them reach the standard of last year but to not be EXS due to another goal post change.

It feels as though we trained to climb Everest and when we got to the top someone had decided that because too many people had made the same climb that in order to be an expected standard mountain climber you now have to have climbed Ben Nevis as well. But all year, when we were assessing our mountain climbers, we were under the impression that they only had to climb Everest! It is utterly ridiculous!

I read a few comments and articles stating that it would be a flawed system if every child passed the test. Why!?

Set a standard e.g. 50% and have a yes/no grade (attached to a raw score/% score). If all pupils passed then surely that’s a great achievement by all involved in UK education? Moving the goalposts by so much seems as though it is meant to keep the strugglers struggling and the flyers flying. It is designed so that a large percentage of children will never reach the EXS as the threshold would creep higher. If all children had reached the 26 marks then more than likely the threshold would be 30. If they reached 30 then it would be 35 until finally the only way to achieve EXS would be to score 100% in all tests.

I am sure some will throw formulas and processes at me and the phrase “last year’s test was harder” will be banded about but that is down to the people who created the tests. If you have the formulas and the processes, create a test of the same difficulty every year so everyone involves knows the rules and the playing field. At the end of a game of rugby where you win by a point you can’t turn round and say actually you don’t win because too many teams won by 1 point so you have to win by 6. Most things in life have a set standard and either you achieve it or you don’t and if that standard changes, everyone is informed.

I recently watched the film “Eddie the Eagle” which chronicles his courageous journey to an appearance in the Winter Olympics ski jumping event. Originally he is told he must jump successfully from a 70m jump to qualify for the team, which he duly does with a stonking 31 metres. Immediately, he receives a letter from the British Olympic committee explaining that they have decided that he must in fact jump 61metres or more to qualify. They are the evil in the film and as a viewer you immediately hate them for this injustice… sound familiar?

I also read comments saying marking should be “Harsh” and saw pictures of many test scripts where answers, that were blatantly correct and showed that the children understood, were marked wrong due to a formality (slant of a comma, a letter slightly too large, not crossed out clearly enough)! Again… my question is why? Surely our wonderful children should be rewarded for what they know and not penalised for ridiculous things!

We did everything we could to prepare our children for these tests and they did amazingly well and it will be my job to tell them that sadly our best was not good enough in most cases - this is a very sad state of affairs. In my opinion the system is harsh and not fair… not fair at all.

Congratulations to all year 6 pupils for completing a wonderful year and we, your teachers, are proud of each and every one of you. Congratulations to all my primary colleagues on another fantastic year shaping the future generation.

Follow me on twitter @sirmobbsalot

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About Be betterTeaching 4 Articles
Primary English Lead, Y6 teacher, writer, husband, dad, @teachfirst ambassador - aiming to improve education for all.

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