CATs system ‘could be limiting children’s progress’

Almost 4 out of 5 secondary school teachers say CATs could be preventing pupils from achieving the highest possible grades, according to a new study 

The research, commissioned by UK education technology firm Zzish, found that 79% of secondary school teachers believed that Cognitive Ability Test (CATs) may be putting a glass ceiling over children’s ability and potential.

One possible reason for this is that teaching programmes heavily informed by CATs results ensure that grade predictions (e.g. C and B grades) are fulfilled rather than exceeded (A and A* grades). 

CATs are generally regarded in the industry as having a high level of validity – that is, it’s believed that 95% of the time, the results and predictions it yields for pupils’ academic progress and performance five years later is said to be accurate. Three-quarters of secondary school Year 7 teachers who say that they use student progress against CATs predictions in order to decide which students to focus their teaching efforts on, say they do so to ensure underachieving pupils get back on track to attain national average levels of achievement across core curricular subjects – yet only 8% believe unequivocally in its accuracy.

While the assessment is said to be useful in identifying moderate learning difficulties, 68% of teachers admit to feeling demoralised and unmotivated in their job because they were unable to able to help most of their students outperform their CATs predicted grades. 

12% of teachers in the study who do not use CATs predictions say that students generally fail to exceed their CATs predictions, so using the results in this way is not a good use of time.

‘All children of all abilities should be encouraged to achieve their full potential no matter what their predictions say.’

Despite the apparent sense of helplessness that teachers feel in being unable to help a majority of children realise their full academic potential, 78% agree that – with the right teaching and support – many children could still outperform their CATs predictions. An overwhelming 95% of secondary teachers say that if they had more time and resources, they would be able to transform children who are underachieving into high achievers. 

Just under two thirds (65%) believe that education technology could be the route to more effective teaching and learning, but current classroom technology is failing to drive mastery of subjects, optimise teachers’ time and convince sceptics of its efficacy.

Nearly all in this group (94%) believed that – as part of a strategy to improve academic performance – education technology had the potential to enhance both children’s enjoyment of learning and their enjoyment of teaching.

‘79% of secondary school teachers believed that CATs may be putting a glass ceiling over children’s ability and potential.’

Charles Wiles, CEO of Zzish, said: “The CATs system was well intended, but we have inadvertently designed a system that reinforces student predictions rather than one that aims to excel them. Students who are behind on predicted progress are given extra help to catch up whereas those that are on track are left alone. 

“Whilst predictions can add value to our teaching they should not be used to set a glass ceiling on achievement. All children of all abilities should be encouraged to achieve their full potential no matter what their predictions say. To do this we must design systems focused on this mission. The Education Endowment Foundation, for example, has carried out research that shows techniques such as mastery-based learning and self-cognition can have a tremendous impact on helping students progress faster.

“At Zzish we are focused on encoding these and other discoveries into software tools for teachers so that they can more easily apply these techniques in the classroom, save time and help their students achieve more. For example, Zzish makes it much easier for teachers to differentiate their teaching resulting in students of all abilities achieving improvements of 8-10% in standardised test scores for science. And our mastery dashboards are automatically populated by playing fun classroom quiz games saving teachers hours of time each week in tracking student progress against learning objectives.”