National Curriculum Assessment & SATS ideas for Leaders

This blog post will show you how to reduce workload for staff, and improve assessment of SATS tests, and papers with just two simple thought processes.

It is that time of year when teachers across the country start the process of SATs. Despite how people feel about them; preparing for them, giving students practise in them, marking and assessing the 'mocks' (dare I call them that?), they take a considerable chunk of time to get them right.

Teachers have to prepare resources, give out tests etc etc. (you don't need me to go into all of this...). Essentially, it takes a lot of time, potentially increases workload, and definitely increases stress around this time of year.

As a quick review, I took to Google Search Analytics and had a browse around the topics most commonly searched for today. A funny thing happened...

Above is a dynamic chart from UK Google Searches. Searches relating to SATS and National Curriculum Assessment. You can see it peaks around this time of year. Also, more worryingly for me, the search quantity is almost peaking above that of 2005! This could mean a lot of things, one (I assume for the rest of this blog post) is that teachers are looking for ideas, inspiration and ways to help get through them!

Right, let me get to the point...

I sat down with a leadership team today and broke down the steps for one year group, one typical teacher, looking at what is involved in preparing for, and assessing a test paper (this is done at least 6 times a year - lets just agree this is a given across the school, as part of an assessment process).

I wanted to highlight the amount of time an effort that goes into preparing for a test/paper before even getting to the point where I can look at the data/learning/progress. This whole process took about 10 minutes, and is by far an exhaustive list. It is however a good summary of key 'pain points' typical staff run through.

  1. Find the test - look online or get one from the resource/DVD/subscription curriculum (5min)
  2. Print off one copy (2 min)
  3. Photocopy for class (x30) - printer most likely out of paper (20 min - no problems)
    1. Get paper
    2. Fill copier
    3. Dummy run one or two prints to check stapled and folded - find out auto staple broke
      1. Hand staple sheets
  4. Hand out to class (2 min)
  5. Explain how to do the test (5 min)
  6. Do the test (45 min - exlcude this as not teacher work)
  7. Collect in (2 min)
  8. Bag it / Take home to mark (1 min)
  9. Mark each paper (2 min per student? 60 min total)
  10. Add marks to Spreadsheet (5 min)
  11. Colour code, formulae (2 min)
  12. Analyse - make a few charts for SLT / presentation (13 min)
  13. Plan intervention
  14. ...

Roughly 1hr 55 min

What if we could minimise that time, reduce it, so that staff have time to do other things?

Here is the plan

Why not convert our paper test (not ever single one, but the key ones that we use to check progress over the year) into digital ones?

Here is my logic 

Creating one test on line is time consuming to start with. But, if each year group team had one or two people working on a couple of tests/papers that could speed the process up - perhaps use a tech savvy team member?

Once one test is created, it is easy to duplicate and tweak each test for another topics (as the framework is already in place). The same tests can be taken by students at different times because most systems allow 'question shuffling' - meaning two students can sit near each other an not see the same question, or even the same order of multi choice answers.

Booking / organising a bookable IT suit or mobile device 'pack' is a lot easier (potentially) than trying to copy and collate paper at both ends of the process.

Collecting marks or at least responses is automatic - so we can cut out the need to input data (this isn't a summer holiday data entry scenario!) Data collected can be easily set up to be auto marked (depending on the type of question - Ill come back to this!)

Basically we can reduce the long term and medium term time it takes to use and reuse these tests, whilst minimising costs of printing etc. Its got to be worth trying out, right?!

But James! There isn't a system that can auto mark free response, and my students NEEEEED to write.

Lets deal with it then 

First, Im aware open ended or free response questions come up in comprehension tests - where we are testing for understanding of text, reading, etc. In these types of test (found often in downloadable resource based curriculum packages) we are looking for exactly that, we are not testing writing skill - yes that's a bonus, but actually not specifically for what those tests are designed for. We can cross that assessment bridge another day!

There isn't an easy way to auto assess free response / open questions. Purely because there are so many word combinations even for a Year 1 comprehension test, we would need a degree or two in something to knock up an app to do that. No, I cant help with that. But I can help with the rest of the test!

Looking at one particular 'book' test from a well known curriculum provider for KS2, all the questions in one set of tests had the exact same formula (they would have, they look and feel like a SATS paper - that's the point). Out of 13 questions, 3 of them were open or free response questions or 23%. That means, 77% of the test are closed questions - or another way...

Instead of marking 13 questions for each child, I only have to mark 3

The data collection system (lets call it that for now) will do the rest of the questions - so long as we set that up initially.

If I show my staff how to do this in the IT suite, I am reducing the need to print out papers, reducing the time it takes between them doing it > uploading the data > and analysing it.

From a student point of view, I can use the awesome accessibility options on desktops / browsers / iPads / Chromebooks / Surfaces - by typing with the microphone, drawing with my finger, or even (if you want to get all geeky) recording a video - woah, not too far James!

Lets pull it back a bit!

What I hope I am gettng to is this. By simply testing out a digital system for quick tests (this doesnt have to take the place of all paper ones...far from it) I can at least reduce one teachers work load by the doing the following:

  1. Create the test on line (20 min)
  2. Take class to IT suite / Bookable resource (5 min)
  3. Login (15 min - if this is the first time, perhaps 5 min)
  4. Give link / QR / short code / bookmark (2 min)
  5. Explain - could be removed by recording your on video, but lets include this step 'old school' (5 min)
  6. Do the test
  7. Results are auto collected
  8. 10/13 questions auto marked, mark 3 open questions (reduction of 77% = 46min therefore 14 min to mark 30 papers, or 90 questions)
  9. Analyse (13 min)
  10. Intervention
  11. ...

66 minutes (1hr 16 if you have longer login issues) , compared to 1 hr 55 min, and my staff will have a set of tests they can duplicate, use again, or even simply shuffle the question order to check knowledge 'stick'. 

Worth trying, right?

There are plenty of systems out there that you could use. Im not too fussed which one anyone wants to choose. In fact, that's not really my point. The fact is, using a simple quiz or test maker, that kicks data/responses out the other end (so I can analyse the numbers) is what I want you to try out.

For a simple solution, look towards something like Google Forms. It allows your staff to work collaboratively (great), for free (double great), and the answers are instantly imported and collated in Google Sheets (you could easily use Excel) (triple great). 

Google Forms is an easy, free way to create simple and quick tests on line

Google Forms is an easy, free way to create simple and quick tests on line

A very quick look at Forms in action . The creation of a form, and the capture of responses (and auto mark) in a spreadsheet.

A very quick look at Forms in action . The creation of a form, and the capture of responses (and auto mark) in a spreadsheet.


Now this is all well and good, but (if you've got this far, thanks for hanging in there) We have had reall success with this approach. Having tried this now with a handful of teachers, those figures quoted above, are pretty much exactly what we find happens. Of course, each school will be different, but tweaking or testing out this approach in your school will (I am positive) save copious amounts of time for you as a leader, but also your teams, your staff, and ultimately allow them to spend longer at the intervention stage...


If you would like to know more about the method or systems I have mentioned in this blog, get in touch! Id love to talk you through how this can be done. We want to help you get that high performing culture in your school to even higher heights. Drop a comment below, or email me 

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker