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I left teaching because there were ten-year-old children in tears over the SATs in my class.
There were several other reasons why I walked away, but the SATs were my tipping point. I was incredibly stressed and felt the pressure to get the results for the kids, for the school, for myself. As much as I tried to hide my own anxiety over the tests, my kids obviously picked up on that and I couldn’t see how I could be an effective teacher for them anymore.
Looking back with the benefit of distance and experience in a completely new role, I’ve realised that in the grand scheme of things, the SATs are just not that important. Certainly not worth anyone’s mental health.
In fact, there’s a pattern I’ve noticed throughout education: the importance of the SATs soon pales in comparison to GCSEs, which are nothing compared to A Levels, which are then soon forgotten when you’re working towards your degree or when you’re finally working outside of education and just want to concentrate on your career.
There’s always another assessment, something that comes after, but it can be all-consuming in the midst of it. It’s hard enough working through the system as a student, but as a teacher it may feel like you’re caught in a loop.
So why do we get so upset, stressed, anxious – why do we get such tunnel vision when it comes to these assessments?
Well, the common thread with SATs, GCSEs and A Levels is that they are also accountability measures. They are ‘high-stakes assessments’ which means that there’s more counting on them than highlighting what a student knows and can do.
Side note: To be completely honest, I hate the term ‘high-stakes.’ Mainly because my first thought goes to poker tables and casinos. So it makes me nervous when we use the same terminology in education – are assessments just one big gamble?
Funding and Ofsted decisions on school performance have used assessment results to support their judgements. Internal performance management for teachers has also used students’ exam outcomes as targets for teachers.
However, following the publication of Factors affecting teacher retention in March 2018, which specifically cited teachers feeling that there were too many tests and exams, there have been revisions to Ofsted’s framework to move focus away from assessment outcomes and on to curriculum.
This is hopefully an indication that the way assessments are being used and the impact that has on teachers is being addressed. Because, ideally, assessments should be a source of support and comfort to teachers’ well-being.
Teachers assess every day in every class in an effort to understand their students’ understanding. There is much more to assessment than national statutory exams.
Baseline assessments, like the ones CEM provides, give teachers an insight into their students’ skills and abilities at the start of the year that makes a great foundation for learning and for teaching.
Assessment data, rather than being a headache of numbers and spreadsheets, used in the right way provides clear, solid evidence that supports and validates teacher judgement. It’s a great help when having conversations with students, their parents or senior leaders about their learning and discussing the next steps forward.
The information also allows teachers to identify how to best help their students and adapt their teaching to address their needs. There is the added benefit in being able to track progress and being able to visually see the positive impact you are having on your children and their learning.
And an extra bonus for CEM’s assessments is that there is no teacher marking required, which hopefully alleviates some of the pressure on your workload.
Assessments can help. If you find that assessments are causing you stress, please take a moment to reassess your viewpoint - talk through the assessment with a colleague who has experience, ask yourself is it really the assessment that’s causing the worry or is it the outcomes, the weight of expectation and importance attached to it.