'Clear as mud': Teachers react to KS2 writing assessment changes

Fear that changes to make writing assessments more flexible could add to confusion over standards at KS2

Helen Ward

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Pupils being assessed under the “more flexible” writing assessments for 10 and 11-year-olds this summer will still be expected to meet all of the criteria given, Standards
and Testing Agency (STA) officials have said.

Teachers can now use their discretion if they feel a pupil who has not met all of the criteria should still be assessed as meeting the standard, which means there will be more flexibility, says the STA.

But this discretion must be used “on occasion” and with “good reason” – prompting criticism that the new rules on assessing writing assessments are "clear as mud".

During a live webinar, STA officials were asked if new assessments were "secure fit" or "best fit".

"It's not necessarily a binary thing," Andy Hackett, an adviser from the STA's assessment policy team, replied.

"We can be clear it isn't a best fit, as we knew them under the national curriculum levels, where the guidance was you look at a description of one level and a description of another, you make an adjacent comparison and you decide which one best fits that pupil."

Standards system

He added that the expectation was that a pupil meets all the criteria in a standard, as it has been under the "secure fit" system of the last two years.

But now, when teachers make their final judgement, he said: "If there is a particular weakness that is an exception to the pupil's overall standard of writing, then they can decide to put them in that standard would not be a true representation of their achievements as described in those statements."

But some have said the answer has not made the new rules much clearer.







The government’s announcement that KS2 writing assessment would be more flexible was widely welcomed.

The writing assessment was one of the most controversial parts of the new Sats, which were introduced in 2016, because of the confusion over how to interpret the writing framework.

Concerns over the different ways in which schools, and the local authorities moderating schools, interpreted the framework led to some experts saying the results could be unsafe – and the government confirmed that writing data alone would not be used to prompt intervention in a school.

Now the STA has said in its assessment guidance that the "pupil can" statements – which set the standard expected by pupils – have been revised to give a greater emphasis to composition – while statements on the technical aspects of writing are less prescriptive.

Writing requirements

The changes mean that pupils at the expected standard should be able to “select vocabulary and grammatical structures that reflect what the writing requires, doing this mostly appropriately”.

But they no longer have to specifically show they can “use a wide range of clause structures” or “use adverbs, preposition phrases and expanded noun phrases effectively to add detail, qualification and precision”.

And while they have to “use the range of punctuation taught at key stage 2 mostly correctly”, the requirement to show “some use of semi-colons, dashes, colons and hyphens” has gone – although it remains as part of the standard for children working at greater depth.

In the former framework, teachers were told that to demonstrate that pupils had reached a particular standard they needed to have evidence that a pupil demonstrated attainment in all of the statements within that standard – as well as all of the statements in any preceding standards.

Teacher discretion

The new writing framework, which was published in September, also says a pupil’s writing should meet all the statements. But teachers can now use their discretion to ensure that “on occasion” a particular weakness does not prevent an accurate judgement of a pupil’s overall attainment being made.

However, teachers must have a good reason to judge that a pupil is at this standard and be able to justify their decisions, during moderation.

There are also frameworks for assessing reading, maths and science. But teacher assessments in reading and maths are to be scrapped in 2018-19, so these will not be updated. A new science framework will be published in 2018 for use in 2018-19.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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