Why can kids pass tests, but then fail in life?

Tom Middlehurst

  • Study habits are completely driven by assessment
  • Students will never be sufficiently equipped for life without an improvement in assessment practices
  • Removal of NC levels gives opportunity to discuss how to accurately assess progress
  • Assessment frameworks must enhance the continuity of learning from primary to secondary school


By Tom Middlehurst, Head of Research SSAT

School assessment frameworksWhy can kids pass tests, but then fail in life? This is the question that Professor Eric Mazur will be exploring during his keynote at the SSAT National Conference on 4-5 December in Manchester.

Why is it that straight-A students can fail in the workplace, while school dropouts can go on to succeed? If one of the core purposes of education is to equip young people with the skills to succeed in employment, does this not suggest we’re doing something wrong somewhere?

Why is it that straight-A students can fail in the workplace, whilst school dropouts go on to succeed?

The answer, Eric thinks, lies in what we assess students on, and how we assess them. Do we always measure what is valuable; or do we end up valuing what we can easily measure? How can we blend statutory, national assessment with local, contextualised assessment? And are we aware of how our assessment practices drive students’ learning habits?

The reality is that, even when students have the best of intentions, their study habits are driven by assessment. The purpose and form an assessment takes will directly influence the type of learning that students will engage in. This is why assessment is sometimes known as the ‘hidden curriculum’.

The reality is, that even students with the best of intentions, their study habits are driven by assessment

As educators, we cannot hope to design and implement a stimulating, engaging curriculum that will promote lifelong learning and be of use to young people when they leave school, until we get our assessment practices right.

school assessment frameworksThis week, I was lucky enough to visit Huntington School in York where assistant head and popular blogger and author Alex Quigley is leading changes to the school’s curriculum and assessment frameworks.

Alex was pleased to see the removal of national curriculum levels this September, recognising it as an opportunity to engage staff in discussions about how they can accurately assess progress in their subject.

Coupled with this change, the school have redesigned the way in which they report students’ effort to parents, reflecting Huntington’s commitment to growth mindset.

These changes came about from a desire to assess, feedback, and report in such a way to help learners move forward and succeed in the future. You can read more about Huntington’s approach on Alex’s blog, and headteacher John Tomsett’s blog.

A blog published this week by Stephen Tierney, Chair of the Vision 2040 group, stresses the importance of clarifying your thinking on assessment before adopting or adapting a new system.

Stephen argued we have to be clear about what we want our assessments to achieve. He suggests an assessment framework should support the following outcomes:

  • It must be directly related to students’ learning and actually support and enhance the learning process. This includes helping close the gap for each student between current and expected learning as well as closing the gap between different groups of students.
  • It must be able to enhance the continuity of learning from primary to secondary school
  • It must support the development of an increasingly high quality curriculum and increasingly high quality teaching.

Stephen and Alex are just two practitioners exploring this potentially exciting opportunity at the moment. Join us at the National Conference next month to help clarify your thinking with Professor Mazur, and network with hundreds of other school leaders to explore how other schools are approaching assessment in the coming years.


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