The impact of testing on teacher retention

Reducing the number of high-stakes tests may contribute to the retention of new teachers, but not necessarily those who have been teaching longer, according to a working paper from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER).

Dillon Fuchsman and colleagues used changes in testing practices in the US state of Georgia to consider what effect removing high-stakes testing for certain grades (year groups) had on teacher retention. Over the last four decades, Georgia has employed four different testing models which have included dropping all statewide achievement tests in some grades, excluding some subject areas from testing, and reducing the number of grades in which some subjects were tested. They looked specifically at teachers in grades 1 to 8 (Years 2 to 9).

Results showed that, overall, removing testing did not have an impact on how likely teachers were to leave the profession or change schools.

Source: Testing teacher turnover and the distribution of teachers across grades and schools (February 2020), National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, CALDER Working Paper No. 229-0220

What do children think about tests?


English children complete their SATs tests on the national curriculum in Year 6 (aged 10-11). In the weeks leading up to the Year 6 tests, ComRes interviewed 750 English children (weighted by age, gender, and region to be representative of England) about the tests. Their research revealed the following:

  • When asked what the children thought about the tests, 62% said they enjoyed or didn’t mind them; 38% said they didn’t like or hated them.
  • When asked how they felt about tests, the most common words chosen were nervous (59%), worried (39%), stressed (27%), and confident (21%).
  • Most children (59%) said that they felt some pressure to do well in school tests, but the vast majority (81%) thought they had enough time to relax after school during the week.
  • A quarter of the children said they found it hard to concentrate when they had tests, with slightly more worrying about their school work (32%) or wanting to show how much they know (35%).

Source: BBC Newsround SATs Poll (2016), ComRes.

The long-lasting effect of pre-school experiences

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores the impact of the early home learning environment (HLE) and pre-school on entry patterns and overall achievement at ages 17 and 18.

The authors used data from the Effective Provision of Pre-school Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study, a large-scale, longitudinal study which has tracked the progress and development of more than 3,000 UK children from pre-school to post-compulsory education. They merged this with achievement data from the National Pupil Database.

The report concludes that both the early HLE and pre-school continue to shape young people’s educational outcomes up to age 18. There were significant positive effects for both the early HLE and pre-school in terms of increasing the likelihood that a young person will enter AS- or A-levels.

In terms of achievement, those who experienced a good early HLE were more likely to have higher achievement in terms of Key Stage 5 point scores. Although for most pupils attending pre-school did not lead to effects in the grades they achieved at KS5, separate analysis for the Sutton Trust showed a lasting impact for disadvantaged young people classed as high achievers at the end of primary school.

Previous research using the EPPSE data found that when pupils were 16 years old both the early HLE and pre-school shaped their GCSE attainment. Positive parenting and a stimulating HLE at an early age predicted both a higher total GCSE score and better grades in English and maths, and achieving the GCSE benchmark measures of 5 A*-C and 5 A*-C including English and maths. The same was true for attending any pre-school compared to none.

The Best Evidence in Brief archive includes a number of previous reports based on the EPPSE project.

Source: Pre-school and early home learning: Effects on A level outcomes (2015), Department for Education.

Examining the effects of assessment

Researchers at the RAND Corporation have conducted a series of literature reviews that focus on topics such as high-stakes testing, performance assessment, and formative evaluation.

Their findings, published in a new report, suggest that there are a wide variety of effects that testing might have on teachers’ activities in the classroom, including changes in curriculum content and emphasis (eg, changes in the sequence of topics, reallocation of emphasis across and within topics); changes in how teachers allocate time and resources across different pedagogical activities (eg, focusing on test preparation); and changes in how teachers interact with individual pupils (eg, using test results to personalise teaching). The report, “New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement”, also identifies a number of factors (eg, pupil characteristics and regional policies) that mediate the relationship between assessment and teaching practices.

The authors suggest that the role of tests would be enhanced by policies that ensure tests mirror high-quality teaching, are part of a larger, systemic change effort, and are accompanied by specific supports for teachers.

Source: New Assessments, Better Instruction? Designing Assessment Systems to Promote Instructional Improvement (2013), RAND Corporation.

High-stakes tests may damage teaching quality

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal has found that the quality of instructional support (ie, teaching methods and classroom organisation) is lower when teachers are under the greatest pressure to increase test performance.

The authors used two years of observation data from a cohort of US pupils who were first graders (Year 2) during the 2007–08 school year. A total of 348 observations took place in 23 classrooms in eight selected schools, when the children were in second grade and third grade (Years 3 and 4).

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the researchers found that in the months leading up to high-stakes testing in Year 4, teachers in these classrooms offered lower levels of instructional support than Year 3 teachers who were not experiencing the same level of accountability pressure. However, observations after the tests revealed the quality of instructional support was indistinguishable between Years 3 and 4.

The authors suggest that accountability policies do not necessarily need to have negative consequences for classroom quality, but could be designed to improve it by including relevant measures.

Source: Pressures of the Season: An Examination of Classroom Quality and High-Stakes Accountability (2013), American Educational Research Journal, 50(5).

Summer born children – it’s their age that counts

Some studies have shown that children who are born at the end of the academic year (summer born children) tend to have lower educational attainment than children born at the start of the academic year. The differences might be because of the precise age when they take a test, because they started school at an earlier age, because they have had less schooling, or because they are the youngest in the class. A new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that it is the age at which children take the test that is the most important factor.

The authors suggest that UK national test scores could be adjusted to allow for this variation. However, this would not help to resolve other problems that summer born children may face, for example, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as underage smoking. Reassuringly, the authors point out that, in adulthood, many of the differences disappear, and summer born individuals are just as healthy, happy, and earn as much as their older peers.

On the same subject, a recent Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper uses data from the Millennium Cohort Study to examine whether summer born pupils are differently represented in ability groups in early primary school. Across all types of ability grouping (within-year, within-class), the author found a pronounced and consistent tendency for relatively older pupils in a school year to be placed in the highest stream, set, or group.

Sources: When You Are Born Matters: Evidence for England (2013), Institute for Fiscal Studies, and In-school Ability Grouping and the Month of Birth Effect: Preliminary Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study (2013), Centre for Longitudinal Studies.