The Three Most Challenging Aspects of Primary School Testing
Despite its difficulties, teaching is a great job. However, there are some aspects to the role that simply aren’t designed to be fun – and testing is one of them.
Right up there with doing your marking past 8pm, administering tests isn’t generally our idea of a good time (and the pupils aren’t exactly raving about it either).
The test itself is often just the tip of the iceberg – especially when it comes to national assessments, such as SATs. Far more demanding than a 5-minute spelling test, SATs can cause challenges for both teachers and pupils alike, with a real balancing act required to make sure that both educational and pastoral needs for pupils are met.
Here are three of the biggest challenges you’re likely to encounter during test season, and some top techniques for mitigation.
No matter to what degree you attempt to shield pupils from the stress of testing, it’s difficult to avoid completely – especially when there may be pressures from home, as well as school.
Modelling positive language and behaviour will help to reassure the children that tests are not the be-all and end-all of their school experience. Never refer to the tests in terms of ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ – it’s all about trying your best, and your best is allowed to look different to somebody else’s.
Similarly, reward the class for ‘having a go’. Mistakes are part of life and having a perfect score isn’t always realistic – so set the expectation to try, rather than the expectation to ‘get it right’, from early on.
2. Accommodating for A Variety of Needs
Walk into any primary school classroom and you’ll encounter children with a wealth of different abilities and backgrounds – it’s part and parcel of school life.
Unfortunately, national testing is notoriously inflexible in regard to what is assessed and how, resulting in failure to accommodate for the diversity of our classes.
Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), as well as children whose first language is not English (English as an additional language – EAL) can find testing particularly difficult, especially during the preparation stages. The stresses of being tested on subjects where they are not able to shine can result in a crisis of confidence, growing anxiety and even a change in behaviour.
In addition, children with summer birthdays can also be at a disadvantage, as a result of being the youngest in their class; after all, those few months can make a big difference to those who are barely in double figures. At testing time, this development gap is felt more than ever.
Although testing can be stressful, many children find being excluded from class activities to exacerbate the situation – so including everyone in study sessions can be a comfort, even if they may not be able to participate in the same way. Pairing a less confident child with one who has a good level of understanding can help them to access the challenge, without feeling too swamped.
3. Teaching to The Test
When it comes to preparing children for national testing, specific criteria can easily start to flood your lessons; drilling literacy and maths becomes the priority, despite your best efforts to retain balance.
Meanwhile, subjects such as art can start to slip between the cracks.
For teachers who are keen to nurture their pupils, this can feel counter-intuitive.
Schedule some chill-out time, even if it’s on the test day itself. Can the children come in half an hour earlier to listen to some music, or do some painting? Even a small part of the day which is dedicated to a relaxing task can make all the difference.
Studying for literacy tests doesn’t need to be stressful.
With the award-winning Mighty Writer resource, every child in your class can build their confidence in core literacy skills. By breaking the process of learning to write into easy-to-manage chunks, children of all abilities can become independent and capable writers – almost overnight. Before you know it, testing fears will disappear.