ANNEX IOE RESEARCH SUMMARY

 

Research into the Effects of Compulsory National Testing in Science on Teachers and Teaching at KS2

 

 

Summary

 

Dr Sue Collins, Professor Michael Reiss,

Professor Gordon Stobart

Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust in association with the Association for Science Education

 

Introduction

The research aimed to explore the effects of compulsory national testing in science on year 6 teachers (i.e. teachers of pupils in Year 6, aged 10-11 years) and the teaching of science in England, as well as the impact of the abolition of statutory testing in science at KS2 (Years 3-6) in 2004 on Y6 teachers and the teaching of science in Wales.

 

This research is timely given recent developments in assessment procedures and practices in Wales (Daugherty, 2004) and discussions in England concerning ways in which assessment of pupils' learning at the end of each Key Stage might be revised in an effort to address issues such as test preparation, a narrowing of the curriculum and undue pressure on pupils (QCA, 2005; GTC, 2007)

 

Since the Education Reform Act (1988) educational assessment in England and Wales has been dominated by systems of summative assessment. A substantial body of research evidence questions the value of such assessments and suggests that they can be detrimental to the provision of high quality education for pupils (e.g. Wiliam, 2001; Harlen, 2003; Black & Wiliam, 2006).

 

Research continues to raise questions about the validity and reliability of standardised testing in providing accurate information about pupils' levels of attainment at the end of each Key Stage - an issue of particular importance at KS2 where assessments have the 'high stakes' purposes of evaluation and accountability (Black, 1998; Schagen & Kerr, 1999; Newton, 2003).

 

Objectives of the research

The objectives of the present research were to:

Explore approaches to the teaching of science in England and Wales with an emphasis assessment of pupils' learning at KS2;

Investigate the impact of changes in end of KS2 assessment in science on teachers and the teaching of science in Wales;

Understand the views of teachers in England and Wales about the strengths and weaknesses of current assessment arrangements;

Understand the views of teachers in England about the value and impact of school and college achievement tables based on test results; and

Make recommendations based on research findings to inform changes in assessment procedures and practice in science at KS2 in England and Wales where appropriate.

Research methods

The research methodology was designed to systematically gather and explore a range of views about the teaching of science and the impact of assessment procedures and practices in Y6 in England and Wales.

 

The research utilised both quantitative and qualitative methods:

A telephone survey of teachers in England and Wales; and

Focus group discussions in England and Wales.

 

Quantitative research

A telephone survey of 600 teachers, science coordinators and headteachers - 300 from England and 300 from Wales - was conducted by Ipsos-MORI in September 2007. The telephone survey gathered information about approaches to science teaching in Y6 and views and experiences of assessment procedures and practices used to determine pupils' level of attainment in science at the end of KS2 in England and Wales.

Qualitative research

Sixteen focus group discussions were conducted - 8 in England and 8 in Wales - involving of a total of 74 Y6 teachers, science coordinators, headteachers and secondary science teachers. Discussions were designed to explore participants' experiences and views of science teaching and assessment of pupils' learning in Y6 and to investigate in greater depth issues arising from the telephone survey.

Research findings

1. Strategies and approaches to teaching science in Y6 in England and Wales

Respondents to the telephone survey and participants in focus groups in England reported that preparation for statutory testing in science in Y6 classes in England:

Had the effect of narrowing the science curriculum to include only that which is testable in paper and pencil tests; and

Limited approaches to teaching, encouraging transmission; teaching with a focus on factual knowledge.

As a result teaching strategies rarely included investigations or other practical activities in science and resource materials were restricted to revision texts and past test papers.

The effects of the abolition of testing in Wales have yet to be fully realised as some schools have opted to phase out formal testing procedures over a period of time. However, in schools where tests were used to support/confirm teacher assessment investigations practical activities were frequently incorporated into science sessions to support summative teacher assessment.

2. Challenges faced by Y6 teachers in the teaching of science

A common challenge for Y6 teachers in both countries was the need to revise the whole KS2 science curriculum in Y6 - in England to prepare for wide ranging statutory science tests and in Wales to assist summative teacher assessment.

 

In England other challenges were:

A perceived lack of time in Y6 to complete all of the necessary revision and test preparation prior to national testing;

A sense of pressure felt by Y6 teachers, science coordinators and headteachers to ensure that the results of high stakes national testing, used as the basis of school and college achievement tables [1] were as high as possible;

Maintaining positive attitudes towards science among Y6 pupils; and

Alleviating the effects of parental pressure on pupils to do well in national tests.

 

In Wales the main challenges were:

An increase in the workload of Y6 teachers mainly due to a perceived need to collect additional evidence to support teachers' summative judgements of pupils' levels of attainment in science;

Determining summative levels of attainment for each pupil based on science National Curriculum Statements of Attainment, many of which were felt to be imprecise;

The importance of maintaining high levels of attainment in science at KS2 for their school, despite the abolition of attainment tables, as results were posted on school websites; and

A lack of consistency in procedures for internal and external moderation of teacher assessment, particularly in reaching agreement on levelling of pupils' work in science at KS2.

In an effort to overcome obstacles over half the Y6 teachers and science coordinators involved in focus groups in England and Wales were turning to Interactive White Board software designed to support the teaching of the Science National Curriculum Scientific Enquiry programme of study (Sc1). Interactive 'virtual' investigations made it possible for Y6 teachers to undertake whole class science revision sessions without the need for hands-on practical activities.

3. Assessment procedures and practice in England and Wales

Telephone survey responses and focus group discussions highlighted significant differences in strategies and approaches to assessment for science in Y6 in England and Wales.

 

In England assessment strategies, informed by revision and test preparation, included:

The use of past test papers to monitor development of pupils' factual knowledge through the autumn and spring term;

Practice papers to coach pupils in the skills of answering science test questions using correct terminology and scientific vocabulary;

Teacher review of assessed work to inform subsequent planning and teaching in science; and

Discussion of learning intentions to inform revision

Feedback of test marks and discussion of tests with pupils to support preparation for science tests.

 

In Wales teacher assessment strategies were informed and supported by:

Discussion of learning intentions with pupils to facilitate teacher assessment;

Review of pupils' assessed work to inform summative judgements of pupils' level of attainment in science;

Feedback to pupils on their work in science to support subsequent learning;

Past test papers to provide additional information about pupils' knowledge and understanding of science throughout the year; and

Optional test materials either to inform, support or provide additional evidence to confirm summative teacher assessment.

4. Implications of the abolition of national testing at KS2 in England and Wales

The teaching and learning of science in Y6 in Wales is beginning to change in the following ways:

The emphasis in science teaching in Y6 is shifting away from content and the transmission of factual knowledge towards the development of pupils' science process skills to support their learning in science;

This change in emphasis in science teaching was necessary to facilitate summative teacher assessment based on teacher observation and the need to assess pupils' progress in the Science National Curriculum Scientific Enquiry programme of study;

Whole class teaching has made way for small group work in science to enable teachers to assess individual learning more accurately; and

Summative teacher assessment, which according to the majority of respondents to the survey and participants in focus groups (approximately 90 percent in total) provides a more accurate assessment of pupils' level of attainment in science than national test results.

Secondary science teachers in Wales supported the change towards summative teacher assessment at KS2, but they drew attention to the importance of the following issues:

The need for consistent internal and external moderation procedures to support teacher assessment to ensure accuracy of assessment of pupils' level of attainment in science at KS2; and

The need for optional test materials to inform teacher assessment at KS2.

 

Discussing the implications if national testing in science in England was abolished, participants in focus groups in England raised the following points:

Standards of education in science in Y6 would improve because teachers would have time and freedom to adjust teaching strategies to take account of the needs of individual pupils;

Pupils would become more independent in their learning as they would be encouraged to explore their own ideas and take greater control of their own learning;

Science in Y6 would be more enjoyable for pupils, helping to maintain positive attitudes towards science during primary-secondary transition;

Teacher assessment would provide more accurate information about pupils' levels of attainment in science at KS2; and

Optional tasks would be needed to support teachers' summative judgements of pupils' level of attainment in science at KS2.

 

Debating the same issue, secondary science teachers commented:

Recorded levels of pupils' attainment in science at KS2 are inflated due to intensive test preparation; consequently, they provide an inaccurate reflection of pupils' knowledge and understanding of science;

So long as assessment of pupils' levels of attainment in science at KS2 was accurate, teachers did not mind whether the source was national tests or teacher assessment.

5. Links between assessment and standards in science

Y6 teachers, science coordinators and headteachers who responded to the telephone survey and participated in focus groups held strong views about the value of school and college achievement tables (SACAT). Their main points were:

SACATs based on results of national tests should not be used for purposes of accountability at KS2 because they do not reflect accurate levels of pupils' attainment in English, mathematics and science; and

Headteachers in particular maintained that such tables do not provide useful information for parents because many do not understand how the tables are derived.

Recommendations

The following recommendations for policy makers are based on research findings:

England and Wales: There is a need for a review of current levels of classroom support for science in Y6 classes to facilitate practical whole class activities for science and support summative teacher assessment of pupils' level of attainment in science at the end of KS2;

England and Wales: An exploration of ways in which progression in pupils' learning in science might be improved during KS2 is needed, in an effort address the current need for extensive revision of the KS2 science curriculum in Y6; and

England: An evaluation is recommended of the appropriateness of using school and college achievement tables based on test results at KS2 for purposes of accountability.

 

 

References

Black, P. (1998) Testing: Friend or Foe? Theory and practice of assessment. London: Falmer.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (2006) The reliability of assessment. In J. Gardner (Ed.) Assessment and Learning. London: Sage.

Boston, K (2005) Speech at the launch of the QCA Annual Review: Looking After Learners. http://www.qca.org.uk/qca_8569.aspx. QCA.

Daughterty, R. (2004) In search of teacher assessment: its place in the National Curriculum assessment system of England and Wales. Curriculum Journal 7(2): 137-152.

GTC (2007) General Teaching Council: calls for overhaul of assessment regime. London: GTC.

Harlen, W. (2003) Testing and motivation for learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice 10(2) 169-207.

Newton, P. E. (2003) The defensibility of National Curriculum assessment in England. Research Papers in Education 18(2) 101-127.

Schagen, I & Kerr, D. (1999). Bridging the Gap: The National Curriculum and Progression from Primary to Secondary School. Slough: NFER.

Wiliam, D. (2001) What is wrong with our educational assessments and what can be done about it. Education Review 15(1) 47-58.

 

 



[1] Referred to by respondents and participants throughout this research as 'league tables'.