I’d like to use a sports analogy to explain how I feel about the changes to the writing assessment.
Imagine you had been training for the Rio Olympics to be held in the summer of 2016. You could be a high jumper for example.
The qualifying height for Rio ’16 is 2.29m (men). So, imagine you are that high jumper and you hit your target again and again and again. You feel like you are ready for qualification. Ready for Rio.
But a few months before, there are rumours that the bar will be higher for qualification so as an athlete you start to jump higher, training harder and exceeding your personal goals.
Once again you feel as though you have cracked it, however four months before qualification there comes a shock announcement from the governing body. As well as jumping 2.29 metres you also have to jump 2 metres horizontally. Now you may think that ‘good’ athletes should be able to jump 2 metres anyway so this should not have a detrimental effect on the athletes. However, for some athletes the original 2.29 metre target was their best. They focussed fully on achieving more height as this was what has always been measured. For these athletes, jumping horizontally is almost impossible as all of their effort has been expended on the original vertical target.
So what happens to those athletes who do not meet the new targets?
They lose their funding, they are labelled as failures and they feel that all of their training has been for nothing. There are athletes who can meet the new expectations, they cannot see what the problem is, in fact their coaches support the changes as it makes their athletes and themselves look even better than usual.
What happens to the coaches of the ‘failed’ athletes? They are put under increased scrutiny and eventually lose their jobs while the governing body touts their positions to the highest bidder.
Now imagine that instead of athletes you are a 10 or 11-year-old who has gone through their whole primary school career with one curriculum. This was changed by the government less than two years before testing and the bar was raised. Their teachers heard rumours that the standards required would be higher so they taught accordingly. Then four months before the assessment process the goals were changed. Under the old system some objectives were not put under as much scrutiny as they are now, which meant that in some schools they were not practised as much as there could have been. This could have been for a number of reasons but perhaps all of their energy was expended on reaching that ‘higher bar.’ So now a large amount of our pupils will be labelled as failures, their teachers will be put under greater scrutiny and could possibly lose their jobs when their schools are forced to become academies by the government.
In summary, I am all for ‘raising the bar’ but raise it gradually, and then just move it vertically and not horizontally. If you want to move it sideways or even change the bar altogether then give teachers and schools enough time to implement the changes before testing the children and using the results to label them, their teachers and their schools as failures.