The Big Question: What should the future of testing look like?

Each week, we speak to the people who count, people like you, and post their opinions on the big issues in the education world. Read it and comment to make it a lively and insightful debate.

This week’s question: What should the future of testing look like?

Now that key stage 3 Sats have been scrapped, a question mark hangs over the remaining key stage test for 11-year-olds.

An investigation into national testing and accountability is now being carried out be a five-person team of educationists including the newly-knighted Sir Tim Brighouse and Sir Jim Rose into the future of national testing and accountability. This review, commissioned by Ed Balls, schools secretary, in the wake of the key stage 3 tests decision, will report by the end of February.

It will put forward conclusions on how the Government is to check on standards at the end of key stage 3 without the Sats, and make recommendations on some of the effects of key stage 2 testing.

Although the inquiry is not specifically charged to look at alternatives to the key stage 2 Sats, the future of testing for 11-year-olds is clearly now up for public debate.

At present, single level testing is being piloted in some schools.  This involves teachers making an assessment of readiness of pupils to be entered for tests at an appropriate level.  Another way of gathering information about pupil progress is through random sampling.  This is where pupils are selected randomly and assessed from a proportion of schools.  It is an approach that puts an end to compulsory testing of all children at certain ages, and aims to give a representative result

Could random sampling at 11 be the answer?  Or is there an alternative? Here are some thoughts from the education community:

“My feeling is that there is nothing wrong with regular testing of children. To me, the issue is the publication of these results and the consequent league-tabling of schools. This puts huge pressure on students, teachers and schools, as well as giving an inaccurate picture of the achievements of each. Statistics should not be used in isolation. However regular testing provides data which can be used by teachers for individual target setting. In a perfect world it would not be necessary for the state to monitor  testing; I guess the question is - can teachers be relied on to regularly and effectively test and assess all students? “
Iain Murdoch, Secondary school teacher, Hertfordshire

“I am in favour of stage not age testing. If a pupil is ready to take (and pass) a test then they should take it. This would need considerable investment as it would lead to mixed age classes and pupils being in different ability groups for different subjects.”
Alan Watkins-Grove, assistant head of English, Secondary school

“Something needs to be done.  After all, the only people KS2 testing make a difference to is the school.  The parents and children all know that it doesn’t make any difference to them and how they progress in secondary school.  Two of the children in my class will be away during SATs week, holidays are cheaper and they can’t afford to go at another time.  With 20 in the class that makes a big difference and the results we are judged by will not be accurate, so how does that measure standards? With random sampling or single level tests taken when the children are ready would negate this problem.  Schools have the same problem if children are ill during SATs week.

I think it would be a good idea to ask for teacher assessment then take a random sample of the work a group of children have completed over the year to back up and moderate the teacher assessment, that way you monitor what schools are doing and don’t put eleven year olds through a stressful experience for no gain to them.”
Fiona Turnbull, head of science, secondary school