How much should we be teaching to tests?
Teachers are persistently told that we should not teach to tests but with the multitude of pressures that these tests bring, do we have much choice?
Pressures on the Test Period
Pressures come from different places. Teachers have pressure from their headteacher to succeed, and meet targets based in tests. Showing progress is understandably a must, but some Heads use these examinations as performance management targets for teachers to strive for. Often, these targets are unattainable and come from higher institutions who also need to reach theirs.
Pressures also come from parents, of course parents want their children to succeed, but it is an unfortunate truth that if the children don’t succeed on tests, that generally tends to reflect unfavourably on the class teacher.
The issue that we have here is that teachers are pushed to ensure that 30 children will perform to the best of their ability on one day set by the Government. We are educators, not time travellers.
It is important to note, however, that these pressures do not reside solely with teachers. The majority of children, in my experience, do not enjoy tests. They don’t enjoy that half an hour to an hour of pure panic wherein they must demonstrate 9 months of learning. The pressures on the children come from parents, teachers, and often – more worryingly – themselves. The amount of tension that our children carry on their shoulders, alongside their oversized backpacks, is inordinate for their age. When giving a practise test to my class last year, a pupil – 10 years old – looked at me with a bambi-esque expression and whimpered:
“Is this going to the government?”
I have never mentioned government testing to my classes, and yet they are aware. They are aware that their intelligence and capability is being shared with outside institutions, something that is personal and that they are conscious about. In my opinion, this is not something that children should be concerning themselves with.
In which case, why test?
I’m not so naive to think that testing can just go away, I understand that we need tests. Tests measure progress, both teacher and child. It assesses a child’s readiness for High School. It allows us to compare our children with others and it contributes to school data.
But is it worth it?
The negatives of testing surely outweigh the positives in terms of teacher-pupil wellbeing. Children and teachers are expected to reach sometimes unattainable heights and this gives our children an unrealistic view of real-life, something that we are supposed to be preparing them for.
Teaching to Tests
Some primary schools spend this entire term preparing pupils to take their end of year tests. All sense of timetable and routine tends to be scrapped and instead, they are replaced with more Literacy – specifically reading in Wales – and Numeracy. What are our children then missing out on when we are cutting out subjects that are done throughout the rest of the year? PE, music and art are usually the first to go. Those subjects that would be perfect to give the children a break from their full-on revision schedule, but they don’t provide enough of the ‘measurable skills’ to stay in the testing period timetable.
Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place
When we are faced with such high standards, can we afford to not teach to tests? Can we afford to continue as we have been, risk the drop in results? Of course, the skills needed for testing should be being taught throughout the year but will the children remember a skill that was taught once back in September? No, probably not because skills need to be introduced, consolidated and embedded throughout the year.
Teaching is an increasingly stressful career that is causing more and more people to leave. Testing is a contributing factor to this. How long will it be until people wake up and see that things need to change?
How many incredible educators will we have to lose?