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Editor’s blog: If AI failed to ace Year 6 SATs what chance did the kids have?

You may be aware of the controversy surrounding the recent SATs. The headteacher at my own children’s school described the reading test as the “hardest” he “could remember” and the maths papers as “challenging”. Those are strong words for teachers, who are typically trained to communicate in the most neutral ways they can.

He wasn’t alone in raising concerns with the common view that the reading paper required a little too much reading and not enough time for answering. Multiple articles have emerged about children heading home in tears, with the math tests also deemed unexpectedly difficult.

Interestingly, a group of MPs who took on the Year 6 SATs last December, in response to a campaign by More Than A Score to abolish them, did worse than the average 11-year-old. Now to investigate whether the test was too hard, online learning platform Atom Learning asked ChatGPT to solve the same arithmetic and reasoning questions the students solved, which the government made public briefly following the tests last month.

Anxious Student Sitting Examination – iStock.com

Depending on your view of artificial intelligence (AI), the results are a little concerning. Out of 36 arithmetic questions for a total of 40 points, the AI managed to solve 32, totalling 34 points, which corresponds to 85% of the test. For the reasoning questions, the AI cracked 18 out of 25 questions, totalling 24 out of 35 points, corresponding to 68.6%.

A spokesperson for Atom Learning described ChatGPT’s performance as “It’s interesting and worrying at the same time”.

They added: “While we’re aware that AIs such as ChatGPT are not infallible, it’s important to remember how these questions were supposed to be tailored for Year 6 students, which would make anyone suppose that they ought to be ‘easy’ questions for the likes of adults and computers.

“However, in a situation in which not even an AI can find answers to what is supposed to be basic maths, it’s hard to imagine how young students felt when these same questions were put in front of them on one of the most important days of their lives as school children.”

All this controversy is sure to put pressure on the next government to revise or even scrap the SATs. After all, what’s the point of them? Selective grammar schools, both public and private, have their own tests and children’s SATs results have little to no bearing on their ability to learn at secondary school.

With the majority of parents agreeing that SATs had harmed their children’s mental health, all they appear to do is heap a load of stress on youngsters at an age where they’re already having to cope with massive changes ahead.

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