3 changes that would make KS2 Sats actually 'work'

If we made changes such as scrapping the time limits, we would actually have a proper assessment, argues Claire Lotriet

Claire Lotriet

KS2 Sats

Deep down, I’ve known this for a while, but this year I’m feeling more disillusioned by it all than ever: the Sats children take at the end of key stage 2 just don’t work in their current form. 

And when I say "work" what I mean is that they don’t provide an accurate reflection of a child’s current assessment in that subject, which, I was under the impression, is really the whole point. 

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that a large proportion of Year 6 teachers, assessment leaders and senior leaders agree with me on this, too. 

Quick read: Eyes down, it's time for Sats reading test bingo

Quick listen: What does effective assessment look like?

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Let me clear: I am not an advocate of getting rid of them completely. I know, I know, but here’s the thing: being against Sats in their current form does not automatically mean I’m up for teacher assessment. Teacher assessment is problematic to say the least. 

The problem with Sats

Why? Well, because we have unconscious bias and these things are subjective. It’s not as simple as saying “trust teachers to make a professional judgement".

I trust all the teachers I work with, but does that mean that every year there aren’t discussions and disagreements about assessments of children?

Of course not. I’ve been an assessment leader and local authority moderator for a few years now and I can’t help but think that if teacher assessment is quite a nuanced thing to manage at school level, then how accurate can it ever be on a national level? 

Teacher assessment alone isn’t a bad idea because teachers “aren’t professional enough to be trusted”, but simply because we’re human.

Also, don’t even get me started on the additional workload that full-blown teacher assessment would bring…

So I would advocate keeping the tests, but what would I change?

1. Remove the time limit 

I can almost hear some teachers scoff as they read this – it sounds a little "flowery" I know, but I’m deadly serious.

The time pressure really skews it for some children and that’s when their score really doesn’t reflect their current attainment, which again, is the whole point.

Take the maths reasoning papers, for example. In their current form, they’re assessing what children know and are able to do in 40 mins. But why? Shouldn’t it just be assessing what they know?

It’s not assessing what aspects of the curriculum children do and don’t know if they can’t even make it to the last five questions on the paper, is it?

So forget the time limit. Give them the paper, give them the opportunity to attempt every question and be done with it. 

Why does it matter if they take three or four minutes – or five or more! – per question instead of less than two on average (based on getting through 23 or so questions in 40 minutes)? Isn’t the real issue whether they can do it or not, not how fast they can do it?

Remove the panic of running out of time and just let children have a go at showing what they can really do.

2. Rethink the nature of the reading test 

Honestly, some of the questions make this more of a knowledge test than a comprehension test. While I’m all for a knowledge-based curriculum, this is meant to be a statutory test in reading and not general knowledge.

3. Get rid of league tables

And stop publishing the results nationally. Quite honestly this is the only way that the Sats are going to feel less "high stakes". 

Even if KS2 Sats were suddenly all teacher assessment, continuing to publish the results would still make it a toxic system, still apply unnecessary pressure and, as a result, still end up being farcical.

Tests aren’t bad in themselves, but what is done with the results can turn them toxic.

I appreciate that not everyone will agree with my proposed changes, but I still hold on to the belief that many will agree that something has to change – and soon.

Claire Lotriet is assistant headteacher at Henwick Primary School in London. She tweets at @OhLottie

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Claire Lotriet

Claire Lotriet

Claire Lotriet is assistant headteacher at Henwick Primary School in London and a teaching & learning, assessment, computing and enterprise coordinator

Find me on Twitter @OhLottie

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