National Numeracy and Literacy Tests – to cram or not to cram?

Another term, another two parental consultations for my eldest children – one leaving me happy and confident that I have made the right choices – and one leaving me simply confused.
I am still no nearer to knowing whether my biggest boy should continue his education through Welsh or English but that’s a story for another time – right now it’s the forthcoming national numeracy and literacy tests that are occupying my mind.

These tests take place next term and in the case of my eight year old, the exam practice began with last weekend’s homework. It was also suggested that we should be using the Easter holidays to work through past papers for the tests – practising the sort of questions that are likely to come up, reinforcing the self-checking, encouraging good exam technique eg not lingering over problem questions if they are only worth one mark.

I don’t have a problem with extra work at home where necessary to support a child’s development – in fact I have been actively seeking support on this from school. But I’m really not sure how I feel about practising for these tests, because I’m not clear on the benefit of ‘good’ results. Last year I toed the party line and insisted my son practise really hard, and he came out eighteen months to two years above average for his age. Yet in real life, he is constantly hovering just above the line where he is deemed as in need of extra help. So clearly the results don’t bear that much relation to what’s actually happening, and if that’s the case, why bother?

I imagine the test results contribute to those all important league tables and possibly individual teacher performance ratings. And I do have sympathy with this – it must be immensely frustrating for educational professionals to be graded by how well pupils can pass exams.

But that still leaves us in a situation where we are being asked to spend time on an exercise that is pretty irrelevant as far as the kids go, in place of spending time on what they actually need support with.

So – do I do as I’m told and insist on my son practising for the tests? Or do I spend some time with him in the holidays working on the areas he needs to improve – in his case, fluency and confidence in Welsh? Or – given that he has a homework assignment plus spellings plus times tables plus a reading book every weekend in term time, maybe he should enjoy being a child and have a complete break over Easter!

What would you do?

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30 thoughts on “National Numeracy and Literacy Tests – to cram or not to cram?

  1. Personally, im of the opinion that test results should reflect a childs overall ability to learn/understanding of subject to date so that should extra help be required, it is not denied to them. The purpose of schools testing younger children should never be about anything else!

  2. Been there. Haven’t got the tshirt as we opted for the minimal interference method. We’ve told the children that the tests are to check how well they’re doing. If they do in line with expectations then we know they and the school are working well together. If they do significantly differently, then there’s a problem, either with them or the school and we need to investigate. We told them it was a way of checking how well the school’s doing.
    Result, low stress, happy child, fun Easter, good grades.

    1. Thank you for your wise words! That’s a sensible approach and when they start asking questions about the tests next term I think I’ll be taking a leaf out of your book…as for Easter, well I have officially decided we’re all having a holiday! Hurrah!
      LearnerMother recently posted…Something for nothingMy Profile

  3. My heart sinks slightly at the idea of eight year olds being trained for tests. This sort of strategic learning doesn’t sound terribly beneficial in the longer term when it comes to gaining a more detailed understanding of important ideas or concepts.
    Jonathan recently posted…Learning I was going to be a dadMy Profile

    1. No, I don’t think it is. Though I suppose as the circle moves back towards exams at GCSE level rather than continuous assessment, we’d all better get used to it…Loving Dad’s the Way I Like it still, keep ’em coming!
      LearnerMother recently posted…Something for nothingMy Profile

  4. Personally at age 8 I would let them enjoy their break and forget the revision. As they get older, like my 15 year old, the holidays are taken over more with revision for gcses, but at such a young age they are more about league table results than actual attainment.
    Louisa recently posted…Decorating our Easter treeMy Profile

  5. I think with him still being so young to just let him enjoy his holiday. Maybe go through it once so he isn’t completely new to them but I wouldn’t worry too much.

  6. Awww let him enjoy his hols! I have trouble with my Autistic son who is also 8. He refuses to do homework as its for school and he cannot grasp the association. Thats just one of many issues i have with regards to his education. I say let him have fun, not that his education doesn’t matter but i think there is too much pressure on younger kids with homework and tests and things. xx
    Lucie Aiston recently posted…Encouraging NewsMy Profile

  7. Oh I feel its far too much pressure on children, parents and indeed teachers, test after test and they don’t seem to do any good, its a measure of the school, but pressures the child. I feel for you, been their with my twins, both different needs and ways of bring out the best in them and these tests panicked my daughter to death, I made light of them, but her fear was always there from the teachers words. She is at Uni now. Relax enjoy your Easter! x
    Jo Bryan recently posted…Freebie Friday 18th AprilMy Profile

  8. I have no idea how I’ll cope as ours get older. Although, at the moment- “everything in moderation” is the phrase that gets us through most of our parenting dilemmas.
    As you say, I think the key is not to mask things- to the school’s benefit- when it could prevent your son getting necessary support and going on to be the best he can be. Good luck!
    Debbie recently posted…Getting away from it all at OgmoreMy Profile

  9. I wish schools would let kids be kids πŸ™ My son has improved so much from years 7-10 and surprises me every year with how well he’s doing. We didn’t cram for SATs, I just let what will be will be – the more he had to do practise the more he would get stressed and upset and that’s no good for any child.
    Michelle recently posted…Good Friday Poster [Free Printable]My Profile

  10. I’d never really thought of it like that before. Up until now I’d have thought it’s better to revise and do as well as you can….but if there is nothing that the result will change – for example if the class he’s in will remain the same etc…then actually, it probably is better to let the result be true to the level your son is at without cramming or extra revision. It’s a very interesting scenario and certainly one to think carefully about. I can see the school would want him to do ‘well’ but how he does, really, should be a reflection of where he is under their daily guidance – not Easter cramming. So I probably wouldn’t do any extra revision….
    Globalmouse recently posted…Kingston Upon Thames – a Weekend Away With Children!My Profile

  11. As a teacher and parent I can see both sides of the argument. If tests become a routine part of school life, they are viewed in that way and are not stressful – so major exams later on are more likely to be taken in the child’s stride. SATS are partly for the school, and partly to ensure children don’t “slip through the net”, with difficulties or gaps in learning which have been missed. This is particularly important in job shares, when teachers or children have been unwell etc but it can happen any time. What I intensely dislike is the way schools are often approaching the tests, distorting their importance and relevance to suit their own ends. They should be a natural culmination of a Key Stage, and not requiring a lot of cramming or additional work. At least, not if the school has done it’s job!
    Kate Thompson recently posted…Same Difference Link UpMy Profile

  12. Oh gosh I have no idea what the best solution is here – guessing yours! We just have a 3 YO so we have all this to come no doubt. Can see the benefit to practicing but it does seem a bit much. I’m sure building his confidence in Welsh will be much more fun too πŸ™‚
    Charly Dove recently posted…Orchids in the GlasshouseMy Profile

  13. I feel schools sometimes expect far too much of parents when it comes to work at home. My children’s school have just changed their homework to termly projects where the children can pick different areas but have to include literacy and numeracy but they can create pieces in forms they want to. I feel this then lets those children who hate writing but are good at art express their knowledge in a way they are comfortable yet still learning along the way. I’d simply enjoy the holidays, tests are just a measure of the school not the child at this age.
    Kizzy recently posted…Word of the Week #WotWMy Profile

  14. I have mixed views on this because my 11 year old is about to do her year 6 SATs and the school have put unbelievable pressure on ths children and their learning this year has been focused on how to do well in these tests.

    I’ve discussed this with the school as I strongly disagree with some of the things that have been said / done to pressure the children when in reality, the tests are about the schools need to do well not the children’s.

    Having said that, I have worked with my 11 year old to help her achieve a higher results in these tests because she has asked me to. She doesn’t want to not do well and the help I’ve given her has been one to one specifically addressing areas she is unsure of which is more than the teacher can do in a large class. My helping her has helped ease some of the pressure she was feeling so well worth my time and the giving up of some of her holiday time.
    Cass@frugalfamily recently posted…What we’re eating this week – 10th March 2014….My Profile

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