Nine questions yet to be answered on assessment

The government’s plans have left a number of unaddressed areas on primary testing
7th April 2017, 1:00am
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Nine questions yet to be answered on assessment

The government has set out its latest proposals for how to change primary assessment - including scrapping key stage 1 tests and reviving the idea of “best fit” for judging pupils’ writing.

Last week, it launched a consultation document asking teachers what they think, mentioning several times how keen the government is to ensure that any new measures reduce teachers’ workloads, particularly for those working in early years, Year 2 and Year 6.

But not everyone is happy. The NUT teaching union said that more radical changes to address teaching to the test would have been welcome.

And the proposals - particularly bringing back baseline assessments - have been described as “misconceived” by the Better without Baseline coalition, which includes early years charities such as Early Education and the National Day Nurseries Association, as well as the Mathematical Association and the British Educational Research Association.

This is what you need to know - and what we still need to know - about the changes:

Are baseline assessments coming back?

One of the most controversial proposals in the consultation is the return of baseline assessments. The government says measuring pupils’ progress is a fairer way of assessing school effectiveness than only looking at attainment - and that progress measures need a reliable baseline.

Last year, an attempt to bring in an optional baseline assessment collapsed when an evaluation found the three assessments being used were not comparable.

Opponents say there is no evidence that it is possible to design an assessment of four-year-olds that can give a valid prediction of what can be expected of them at age 11.

Professor Robert Coe, of Durham University, which provided one of the baseline assessments last year, would disagree. He told a recent meeting of the Commons Education Committee that his centre has been providing reliable baseline assessments for 25 years.

But even he warned that there were “massive risks”. “It is deeply unpopular with the vast majority of early years teachers, so that is a big problem,” he told the committee.

So how will the government win round critics of the baseline?

There is a carrot - the sacrifice of the KS1 Sats. If the starting point for measuring progress was moved from KS1 to Reception, there would be no need for KS1 Sats.

The consultation adds that if a Reception baseline went ahead, the government would work with teachers and unions to produce a “teacher-mediated” assessment.

But there is also a stick: if there is no reception baseline, then the KS1 Sats would need to be kept and possibly altered by collecting statutory test data rather than through teacher assessments.

Here, the government is gambling that the profession is unlikely to argue for the testing of seven-year-olds, after winning the argument against such tests back in 2003.

“We do not see collecting key stage 1 test data as the right long-term solution, but we are open to views,” the consultation says.

Why not use the early years foundation stage profile as a baseline?

The early years foundation stage profile (EYFSP) is a “well-established, valued and respected assessment”, according to the government.

But it thinks that it is too broad to work as a baseline, and is completed at the end of the Reception year, rather than at the beginning.

If KS1 Sats were scrapped, how would infant, junior and middle schools measure progress?

KS1 measures would be retained - but because these schools would then be judged on a different basis from all-through primary schools, they would be compared with each other rather than against the all-through primaries.

So the number of tests would be reduced?

Perhaps. The KS1 Sats would be scrapped only if a reception baseline came in - although it is not clear how much testing this would involve.

If that did happen, teachers would still be expected to report detailed information to parents at the end of KS1; the government is considering setting up a new national assessment bank with test materials for schools to use.

And there would also be another new test - the times tables check. This is due to be trialled this summer, followed by a largescale voluntary pilot in 2018.

The tests would be taken online, with an off-line option available.

They would not have to be taken by the whole class or at the same time.

If it goes ahead, the national times table tests would be introduced during the 2018-19 academic year. The consultation asks teachers whether they think these tests should be taken at the end of Year 4, during Year 5 or during Year 6.

And what about teacher assessment, is that being reduced?

The government thinks that ending the requirement to report teacher assessments at the end of key stage 2 in maths and reading might reduce workload.

Will teacher assessments of writing change?

The current system, known as “secure fit”, where pupils must meet every criteria to be awarded the expected standard in writing, has created huge concern among primary teachers. The consultation suggests that the criteria, such as “making some correct use of semi-colons” could be reviewed to support a “best fit” approach. And that this could be done in time for next summer.

In the longer term, different ways of assessing writing - including a trial of comparative judgement, a way of ranking pupils’ work by comparing two pieces at a time - will be explored.

And the moderation process?

There were concerns about the variability in the moderation of writing between local authorities. The government is now going to pilot other approaches, such as peer-to-peer moderation, with teachers from different schools sharing judgements overseen by a moderator.

What does all this mean in terms of league tables?

While there is nothing about the floor standards in this consultation, there is a promise that the move to stop intervention on the basis of data alone will continue.

“As the Secretary of State made decisions on intervention will be made on the basis of 2016 data alone. We are clear that no single piece of data will determine any decision on intervention, in 2016 or beyond,” the consultation states.

For more on comparative judgement, see our cover feature on page 42.


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