The point of testing

It is that time towards the end of the year, during exam season, when testing seems to dominate conversations, whether those conversations are between staff, students, or some combination of the two. Ultimately, in years 11-13, the point of the tests really is for students to show all they’ve learned and achieve the best set of results they can. But what about testing students of younger ages – what is the point? We start of course with the argument that we need to measure progress and then compare that with where we expect different students to be, but how useful is this actually? Yes it can throw up ‘students of concern’, or whatever term had been created to describe these underachievers, but what actually happens after that?

I am going to share the processes we go through with testing at my current school (for Years 7-10), in order to try and make it as useful as possible for both students and teachers (and in many cases, parents as well). So I will start with the same question as before, what is the point of testing these students? The point is that both teachers and students need to find out what they know (and don’t know), so that both we and they know what to focus on going forward. That is it really! Putting it across in this way to students has a couple of benefits. One is that it discourages cheating, in that students tend to be more interested in finding out their own strengths and weaknesses. The second it that it should hopefully alleviate some of the pressure students feel around test scores. By emphasising that testing at this age is all about gathering useful information, as opposed to the score, students tend to not worry quite as much as they would otherwise.

A key part of the assessment process is therefore what happens post-tests. We test 3 times a year, before Christmas, before Easter, and in the summer. After a test is done, students receive a summary sheet which they fill in during class and stick in their book. An example of a Christmas/Easter type is shown.

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As students stick this in their book, it is very useful to reference in reports or at parents’ evenings. Potentially the class set could be photocopied after if another member of staff wants to keep their own version, but the students, rather than staff, are the ones who take the time filling these in.

In summer we have larger ‘terminal’ exams for all year groups, and for these we do a more detailed analysis. However, the point remains the same. Find out, and then communicate to students what they need to do to improve. Once these assessments are done, teachers fill out an excel spreadsheet shared on our google drive. This calculates the grade for all students, as well as their percentages overall on Algebra, Number, Geometry and Data questions. This can help highlight particular areas of weakness. I had a Year 8 student this year whose score was 78%, but actually their Geometry was only 51%. The students receive a similar summary sheet to fill in, as before, but we also share these percentages with them on it. See the picture.

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I have also included a picture of the analysis excel sheet we use. This took quite a long time to set up initially, but is actually very easy to use. It also includes near the bottom a set of percentages for each question. This can be very useful to teachers to help identify any particular questions that their own classes performed poorly on, and maybe spend a lesson covering that topic again. If all classes are put together it can give an overall indication of the year group’s performance. Apologies if the image is hard to see – please email me on the web address associated with this site and I can send you the actual document!

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I hope this has given some insight about the point of testing. It should be made clear to students that the point is to gather information about their strengths and weaknesses so that all can use that information. It is essential for this to work that staff communicate this data to students and encourage them to make use of it independently.

We also have a second set of skills which we assess, which focus on students ability to think logically and answer deeper questions. I will blog about this, and our generic skills grids, in a my next post!