Assessments by teachers of pupils’ abilities could replace traditional tests and exams such as Sats and GCSEs to reduce costs and “bring joy back to the classroom”, according to new research.
In a paper published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers found teacher assessments accurately reflected the ability of their pupils’ performance in later exams in English, maths and science, including A-levels and university admission.
The authors said the results “raise questions about the value of the testing culture that characterises compulsory education in the UK”, especially in England’s primary and secondary schools.
“The financial, pedagogical and emotional costs of high-stakes testing are substantial, especially compared to its modest benefits. For these reasons, we view our results as support for the standardisation and wider use of teacher assessments and the reduction of testing during compulsory education.
“We should trust teachers to implement the curriculum and to monitor students’ progress, abilities and inclinations. This would arguably benefit the wellbeing of students as well as teachers, and help to bring joy back to the classroom,” the paper concludes.
Kaili Rimfield, one of the lead researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said the results were another piece of evidence against the use of multiple, high pressure exams and tests.
“We are not anti-test but when we compared these things we found a very high agreement between teacher assessments and exam grades, and that opens up the possibility that exams could be used less often and teacher assessment could be used more often,” Rimfield said.
In recent years teachers and parents have complained that the level of testing in England has led to higher levels of stress, in part because of the government’s use of the results to rank schools. Over Easter it was revealed that some primary schools now encourage children aged 10 and 11 to attend Sats revision classes in the holidays, while Labour has vowed to abolish Sats nationally.
Margherita Malanchini, co-lead researcher from the University of Texas at Austin, said: “High-stakes exams may shift the educational experience away from learning towards exam performance. For these reasons, we suggest that teacher assessments could be relied on for monitoring progress, instead of exam scores, in particular during earlier school years.”
The researchers used the teacher assessments recorded in the Department for Education’s national pupil database at the end of key stages one, two and three, and compared them to results in Sats and later GCSE and A-level results.
Rimfield said it was possible a pupil’s earlier test results could influence later teacher assessments, since the teacher would be aware of the pupil’s performance. But Rimfield said that the assessments were still accurate even at key stage one, before pupils took their first national tests.
The researchers also said they found no evidence of bias among the teacher assessments. Previous research has found that teachers are more likely to give lower assessments to black and minority ethnic pupils, and in maths to girls, than their later performances would suggest they deserved.
The study used the results from 5,000 pairs of twins in England Wales taken from King’s College’s long-running Twins early development study (Teds), and found that both exams and teacher assessments showed the same results in terms of genetic heritability, which Rimfield said was an important factor in confirming reliability.
In both assessments and exams, the study found that around 60% of the variations in results could be accounted for by the same genetic factors.
Rimfield said teachers would be concerned that replacing testing with assessment could lead to higher workload but said they were already doing much of the assessing that would be required.