Thursday, May 14, 2009

SATs week in the UK: Students Take National Tests

Sarah Ebner writes a great post today in her School Gate blog for parents to understand the levels assigned to their children with the UK national tests (called SATs). Reading her post inspired me to share a similar piece that I wrote for teachers to understand the SATs levels.

Here is an excerpt from the Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians to help you understand the SATs tests in England. Year 6 students across England are being tested this week with the SATs so it's important that you understand what this means.

Standard Assessment Tests
The second major difference is that they have National Tests and these ARE a very big deal. Schools take them very seriously, and their funding can change depending on how their students do overall.

SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) tests are given at the end of year 2, year 6 and year 9. They are used to show students’ progress compared with other children born in the same month. They look a little something like this:

Key Stage 1
SATs take place in year 2 in May. Each child is teacher-assessed in reading, writing (including spelling and handwriting), maths (including number, shape, space and measurement) and science.

Key Stage 2
SATs take place in May and are far more formal than Key Stage 1 and much more stressful! The tests are taken in 6 years and cover the three core subjects, English, Maths and Science. The papers are sent away to be marked with results being available before the students leave primary school at the
end of July.

Key Stage 3
SATs take place in May and are formal tests/exams. The exams cover work done in English, Maths and Science in years 7 to 9. These exams are often used to decide which stream students will be placed in in their final years.

Here is a simple table to show you the levels assigned:

level w Working towards level 1, very weak
level 1 Average for a typical 5 year old
level 2 Average for a typical 7 year old
level 3 Average for a typical 9 year old
level 4 Average for a typical 11 year old
level 5 Average for a typical 13 year old
level 6 Average for a typical 14 year old
level 7 Above average for typical 14 yr old
level 8 Only available in maths

So, if you’re teaching Year 6 and the majority of your students achieve level 4, well done! If some get level 5, even better! Level 3 is below average and means that you should work with the parents to see what can be done to raise that level to a 4.

Additionally you may find bands ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ are given within the levels. This indicates a range within the level, ‘a’ being the highest and ‘c’ being the lowest. Teachers will use this to pre-assess the children and determine where the students are in advance and how you can expect them to achieve on the tests.

For example, with my Year 6 math students, many of them were pre-assessed and achieved Level 4b’s. This meant that I could teach them and bring them up to at least a level 4a, and more likely a 5c. In reality, most of my students achieved 5b’s! So they went up by a full level.

SATS results are combined with the teacher’s assessment and used to stream the students at secondary school. They do matter, although you will hear some people brushing them off and saying “Oh, it’s just a silly test.” Because the secondary schools are streamed in London, it’s quite important how your students do in Year 6 SATs.

If you want to see some sample Key Stage 2 SATs test, go here: http://www.st-josephs-pickering.n-yorks.sch.uk/past_test_papers.htm

For sample Key Stage 3 SATS papers, go here: http://www.emaths.co.uk/KS3SAT.htm

There is so much controversy about these tests, I could write a whole book on the subject. In fact, by the time you are reading this book, they may be scrapped altogether!

What you need to know is this: once you have experience teaching in those age groups, and have your students do well in the tests, then your job possibilities are wide open! In my first year, I taught Year 6 maths so gained experience preparing my students for their SATs tests. My students did as well as can be expected, and a few did even better. The next year, I was then asked to teach small groups of year 6 students (less than 10 students) in Maths and Literacy. I was able to concentrate on their specific needs and 9 out of 10 of my students achieved above grade level in their tests. This meant that the school was able to qualify for more funding to hire a subject specialist the next year.

To see examples of students work, and the assessment of their work, go to this website: http://curriculum.qca.org.uk/ You simply type in the age group and subject and you can see samples easily.
I hope this helps you understand the SATs a bit better. I'm off to Vancouver this weekend to interview more teachers for jobs in London, England. Please apply asap if you live in the area and want to be interviewed.

If you'd like to become part of the Classroom Canada team, please sign up for our newsletters & apply through our website. Be sure to read the Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians to help you understand everything you need to know about teaching in London.

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