The fundamental problem with testing

SATs week: The news is full of headlines of the misery inflicted upon our children by the latest government-inflicted lot of tests ....

SATs Week: Teachers' reactions day-by-day (The Guardian)

Primary pupils 'feel test pressure' - survey (BBC)

SATs: Pupils in tears after sitting incredibly difficult reading test (TES)

Social media is buzzing with parents arguing over the questionable necessity of the misery being doled out to their children.
Some say, "I agree with assessment, but ...." or "I agree there must be testing, but ....."
It all seems just to have gone too far, to have tipped even the most pro-assessment parents towards questioning a system they would not usually question, a system most of us have been so entrenched in from our own earliest years, we cannot imagine a life outside it: our schooling.
Let me tell you why I don't actually agree with testing ....

My objection is to do with language you will find entrenched in discussions about education, including in newspaper articles like those on the links above ....
"even able children could not finish the test",
"This wasn't even a less able child,” another teacher commented."
(Both quotes from the TES).
Do you hear the way children are labelled? This is what I fundamentally object to.

Our education system - by what is deemed to be important (English and Maths), and by its methods of assessment - decides whether a child is "able" or "less able", "gifted" or "struggling". To me, this is a denial of a child's uniqueness and identity. You see, the child who is "less able" might be the kindest child in school. A child who struggles to read might be an exceptional musician. Most of us know this is true, and we tell one another we must try to build children up, to tell them the tests don't matter that much, that they are not defining.
But the problem with sitting in a seat in a classroom on a table which daily tells them, "I am less able" - and I don't care whether that table is called "rabbits" or "butterflies" or whatever, in an attempt to sweeten the pill; children know which table they are on - is that a self-concept develops in these most precious, early, vulnerable years, when the self is developing .... a self-concept which says, "I am no good at maths", "I can't spell", "Writing is not for me", and these are beliefs which will stay with us our entire lives.
Maybe we could have been a great mathematician, it just took us a little bit longer, but the damage is done, the self-belief is formed.

It took one year in school for my son to believe he is no good at maths. He still believes that, although it isn't true. Through play and exploring real life concepts, he can now tackle abstract problems at the level of his schooled peers. But the damage is done, the self-belief was formed young, and built strong on the "middle" table on which he sat in Year 1.

I watch my 4 year-old playing on Maths Seeds and enjoying it. He plays at his own pace, for fun. He delights in his success. He is not being measured - or compared. He hasn't been to school. He is free. Maths isn't maths yet; it is just another form of play.

I was the kind of person who sailed through school, and did well. I was on the 'top tables', one of those "more able" children. Maybe it is hardest of all for those like me to understand the problem. You see, my "A grades" and "Excellents" meant that others were "C grades and "Not good enoughs". My success was others' failure. And whilst some might argue, "It's a dog-eat-dog" world, we should all know our place and get used to it, I deem to disagree. Perhaps just as damaging as the belief I am "less able" is the attitude of children on 'top tables' who can think of themselves as being better than others.
I only succeeded because I could play the system, remember what needed to be remembered, do what the test required. I was only good at playing school, so much so I went on to be a teacher!

Some of those "C grades" and "not good enoughs" were resilient enough to come out of school, shake the dust off their feet and find out that they were really good at being entrepreneurs, or electricians, or chefs .... Some of them, whose self-belief survived. They are far more "successful" now than me.
But I know there were others, too, who never quite managed to silence the voice inside which told them from their earliest years that they were "less able", that they would never amount to very much.

If we cannot see the diversity of children's talents and celebrate their individuality - and I know this is a difficult task in the education of the masses - we will continue to have a flawed system which defines people in a way which damages their mental health and their humanity, whether they are "able" or not! This is the fundamental problem with testing which, for all the debate in the news this week, is not really being addressed.