A Year 7 student who we’ve been helping came in for her lesson yesterday evening as usual. She’s needed much encouragement in the year she’s been attending and although she achieved a 4b in her SAT last May, she is now working on the Kip McGrath Folder 7A.
Folder 7A is a folder of nine sheets, each having 20 mental maths questions which are designed to stretch a Year 7 student. To provide some context, when a student initially comes for assessment with me, I give them a test that is designed for a student two years younger; a Year 7 student would be given an end of Year 5 test. Most assessment students will make mistakes on five or six questions, helping me to understand their strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t many students in Year 7 tackling Folder 7 with me at the moment. R is therefore doing really well but she still lacks confidence and some speed at answering questions.
With all that hard work and achievement in mind, it was upsetting to hear the story she told when she arrived last night.
She’d been given the CAT test, the Cognitive Ability Test, scored lower than average, and promptly been moved down groups. She was upset that she’d done ‘badly’ and that she’d been moved so quickly and into a group where she thinks the maths work is far too easy. It took quite a lot of questioning and encouragement to find out the full story and to try to put her mind at ease. It was a blow to her self confidence.
The CAT test is designed to find out a student’s latent ability and determine how well they might do at GCSE. Year 6 SATs, the tests given at the end of Primary school, are often seen as inaccurate by Secondary schools for a number of reasons.
I understand that the SAT is not a well regarded test of ability and that if students prepare for the test in particular they may lose out on other important aspects of a rounded education. The CAT may be a better indicator of GCSE potential but why have both tests? And if the CAT becomes the only test, what if teachers and tutors start cramming for that type of test?
I was particularly concerned that R felt she hadn’t had the (multiple choice format) test explained to her properly. She felt she’d done badly and internalised the reasons; she’d made it her own fault. In fact, not being prepared properly, being perhaps over tested, and being undermined by decisions about grouping or setting which weren’t explained or negotiated is not her fault!
I often see my role not as a tutor but as a life skills coach or counsellor. Children often seem to get a tough deal from the mechanisms of education. Such a shame.