There is a feeling among many that we over-testing primary children and the tests children are required to take at primary school in England are overly complex and a source of “unnecessary” pressure on children at too young an age. On the contrary, the Government says testing is an important part of ensuring that children master the basics of reading, writing and mathematics early on.
So what exactly are some of these tests that our children are taking?
The Reception Baseline Test
It is proposed by the Government that reception pupils will face a “baseline assessment” when entering school from the year 2020. The test is intended to take place during the first six weeks of school and to provide a baseline measure to track your child’s progress during the primary school years. It probably won’t be a formal “test,” rather an assessment done over a period of time. The Government has said that if the Reception baseline is introduced, then key stage 1 tests will be scrapped.
The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check
Taken by all children in Year 1 in June, this test is meant to demonstrate how well your child can use the phonics skills they’ve learned up to the end of Year 1 and to identify children who need extra phonics help. The check consists of 20 real words and 20 pseudo-words that a pupil reads aloud to the teacher. The assessment usually takes between four and nine minutes per child. Children should not realise that they are being formally assessed and the exercise should be perceived by the child to be part of their everyday phonics activities.
The Year 2 Key Stage 1 SAT
Key Stage 1 SAT take place at the end of Year 2 in May. They consist of six tests in total, four of which are compulsory for your school to administer and two of which are optional.
The tests will be in your child’s usual classroom, with their usual teacher. Children will be grouped in small groups or sometimes as a whole class and they will not be seated in an exam style arrangement so it’s quite possible your child will not even realise they are being tested. The tests are not strictly timed, as they are not intended to assess your child’s ability to work at speed but each usually lasts around 30 minutes. Although the tests are set externally, they are marked by teachers within the school.
The tests are:
Maths Test 1 Arithmetic (compulsory) consists of 25 questions involving calculations.
Maths Test 2 Reasoning (compulsory) requires children to use maths to solve simple problems which are usually described with pictures.
Reading Test 1 (compulsory) requires children to answer questions about written information of about 400 to 700 words long.
Reading Test 2 (compulsory) requires children to answer questions about a more traditional comprehension exercise with a longer passage of text.
Spelling Test (optional) consists of a 20 word spelling test involving the teacher reading 20 sentences which use the word in context.
Grammar & Punctuation Test (optional) consists of a grammar, punctuation and vocabulary test, in two sections of around 10 minutes each involving a mixture of multiple choice and shortwritten answers.
The Year 6 Key Stage 2 SAT
At the end of Year 6, children sit tests in reading, maths, spelling, punctuation and grammar. These tests are both set and marked externally and the results are used to measure the school’s performance via Ofsted reporting and published league tables.
Reading Test requires your child to answer questions on passages of text. The test lasts one hour.
Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test consists of two parts: a grammar and punctuation paper requiring short answers, lasting 45 minutes, and an aural spelling test of 20 words, lasting around 15 minutes.
Maths Test 1 Arithmetic takes 30 minutes and children have to give the correct answer to calculations, including long multiplication and division.
Maths Tests 2 and 3 Reasoning requires children to answer questions in two separate tests designed to measure problem solving and reasoning skills with number, measures, geometry and statistics. Children have 40 minutes to complete each paper.
Marking of Key Stage 1 and 2 SATs
Children are given a score that is “scaled” across the whole country so the average score nationally is fixed at 100. This means if your child has a “scaled score” higher than 100 they are doing better than average and if it is below 100 it means they need more support. For KS1 SATs you won’t receive your child’s actual SATs scores unless you ask for them, but you will be told whether your child is working at the “expected standard”.
Children aren’t required to take any formal tests between the end of Year 2 (KS1 SAT) and the end of Year 6 (KS2 SAT) but schools still have to assess achievement and attainment. In many schools, this takes the form of ongoing teacher assessments or internal tests, but some primary schools opt to use formal tests called CATs (cognitive abilities tests) instead. CATs are used to give a snapshot of a child’s potential, what they could achieve and how they learn best. CATs focus on a child’s natural cognitive ability by assessing verbal reasoning processes using words, quantitative tests looking at the same processes but using numbers and symbols and non-verbal tests looking again at reasoning processes but using shapes and figures. CATs are not statutory tests set by the Government and have no bearing on school league tables.
This article first appeared in Families Magazine. Thanks to editor Linda Stone for permission to publish.