As we are nearing that time when schools are thinking about assessments and exams either as end of year assessments, SATS, GCSEs or even new school applications, I feel the time is right to discuss the need for all this assessment of achievement and how these assessments are done.
You may or may not know that I work in a specialist education setting with young people who have been excluded from main stream education for a variety of reasons. To ensure they get a rounded education and the chance to develop new skills both academic and vocational, some of the learners are provided with off site education in specialist vocational areas. One of the young adults I work with in particular has a diagnosis of Autism and she can become very anxious in new settings, she dopes not always understand that she may have done wrong due to her view of society. She is very quiet and will refuse to talk to people she does not like and she can be aggressive. Usually she is a pleasant young lady with a good sense of humour and she is working towards grade C/D in numeracy and literacy. Direct questioning is not the best way to talk to her, and time limits create high levels of anxiety which can then lead to a meltdown. I am sure that many of you reading this will identify with this young lady.
During her offsite education she finds the noise very uncomfortable and the teachers there seem to have little understanding of her needs and are very concentrated on achievement, and doing assessments in the same way as they have always done them.
Two weeks ago the staff had planned to do their numeracy and IT assessments, the young people had not bee informed about this, and for many of them that was not a problem but for Amelia (not her real name) this was the first in a catalogue of difficulties. As the time came closer for her to be tested her anxiety levels rose, the noise in the room intensified and she became more and more withdrawn. As she was withdrawn the other learners noticed the difference and began to question her, this increased her anxiety levels. I asked the tutor if we could go and sit in a quieter area, I was told to wait a few minutes until she had finished her delivery. So we sat and I talked quietly to Amelia, but could feel the anxiety rise. I told the other learners to stop asking questions and that Amelia was ok. Eventually it was time to do the assessment. We went to a quiet room where the assessor asked direct questions along with asking Amelia to make a choice from about 20 items. Amelia froze and refused to work. The assessor moved onto the next task, Amelia still refused to co-operate, now not speaking and becoming very agitated. The assessor moved onto the next task this time IT. Amelia’s level of anxiety now was very high, and I could see tear building ion her eyes. I stopped the test and explained to the assessor that direct questioning and too much choice was unsuitable for this learner. Amelia broke down as we left the room. She struggled through the remainder of the day with a lot of support and encouragement.
When Amelia left to go home I again discussed the testing methods with the assessor and the tutor, explaining that due to Amelia’s Autism she would never be able to achieve qualifications in this testing environment. It has taken Amelia two weeks to calm down from the experience and return to any form of learning environment.
She is no longer required to be assessed for numeracy, literacy or IT in this environment as we are doing a similar qualification with her in a more controlled and natural way, which suits her learning style and her anxiety. This young lady should never have been put in this situation if the teachers had only listened to me or read her notes.
How many other children are facing such high levels of anxiety due to adults not sufficiently recognising their needs, or making the correct adaptations to assessment? All children who have special needs come with comprehensive notes detailing their abilities and their difficulties. They need to be supported if they are to achieve, and there are many ways of assessing other than testing or questioning.
Parents fight for your child, as I know many of you do. Teachers listen to parents and make suitable arrangements for assessment, as well as looking at the need for assessment. Live should be made easier for these children not easier for adults who can adapt.