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Evaluation may win a wider role

A new computer package for evaluating the performance of reception-age children to be launched in September could become part of the model considered by the Government to create an added-value element to school league tables.

It emerged this week that Government ministers had decided against the school improvement model which measures the year-on-year performance of exam results.

And while Secretary of State Gillian Shephard had made positive noises about the development of value-added, the signs are that it may not be introduced until the next century.

A team at Newcastle University's Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre have been contracted to examine the development of value added. Lecturer in education Peter Tymms said: "The problem with the year-on-year measurement is that school populations change. The best way is to chart individual pupil's achievement as they move up the system." The team intends to launch some pilot studies next year.

In a separate project, Mr Tymms will be promoting a multi-media package for evaluating reception-age children. The "tailored test" takes between 10 to 20 minutes and moves the child on to different exercises depending on their aptitude. The computer will ask the child to identify letters, recognise sounds and pictures by pointing at the screen. The test also includes simple mathematical tasks.

This information can then be stored on disc and sent to Newcastle University for analysis. An individual's performance can be measured in relation to classmates and average scores can be compared with other schools.

The cost per school, which could be funded or part-funded by local education authorities, is Pounds 142 plus Pounds 2 per child. The programme can be recorded in different languages.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, has shown support for such baseline assessments. There are a number of LEAs, for example Avon, Wandsworth and Birmingham, which have been running programmes.

Dr Steve Strand, head of research at Wandsworth, and Elspeth Davis, Avon's early-years education adviser, both agree that the initial results of baseline tests are not totally surprising. Girls do better than boys; summer-born and those on free school meals have poorer scores, and those who have had nursery education do better.

Dr Strand said the results can be used by the teacher to account for the learning needs of each pupil and later the results can be compared to achievement in national curriculum tests.

Teachers complete a check-list for each pupil covering language skills, literacy, maths and science. "The results are also a useful management tool for headteachers," he said.

Avon will be able for the first time to chart pupils' progress from their reception assessment - the different terms are politically sensitive - to key stage 1.

Each pupil is given a score based on observation by the teacher during the normal class day, although certain tasks are set up. The areas the teacher scores are reading, language, writing, maths, problem-solving, social skills and motor co-ordination. Parents are given their child's scores and schools can compare themselves with other schools' mean scores.

The future of the project is in doubt as Avon is to be split into four unitary authorities, but Ms Davis hopes that the analysis she will be able to complete this year will show the value of the programme.

The Government this week produced tables which allows schools and colleges to assess how they improve their students' performance in progressing from GCSE to GCE AAS-level.

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