As any teacher has long known, tests are only one flawed and partial way of measuring educational progress; for any kind of meaningful dialogue schools need a wider range of information on pupils' attainment. This is why, long before the advent of national tests, most good secondary schools used a variety of methods to place their new intake in the best possible learning environments.
I always favoured a combination of primary teacher assessments, any Year 6 nationally validated test results plus at least one NFER group reading test result. This test was taken a few days after entry to Year 7, to check on actual level of functioning after the summer holiday. If time and funding allowed, a group numeracy test would also prove very useful.
The great advantage of conducting such tests within the secondary school that would, in most cases, be held responsible for the pupils' GCSE performance, is that there is absolutely no temptation to be "creative" in their administration.
The nationally-validated tests would give the soundest possible criterion-referenced standards, in terms of reading and numeracy ages, against which baseline pupils' individual progress could be checked annually, while the so-called criterion-referenced (but really norm-referenced) national test results give some indication of subject knowledge and skills learned during the key stage.
Armed with all these indicators one can feel quite confident discussing individual pupils' current performance and likely chances of success at 16-plus.
The extension of YELLIS (Year 11 Information System) and MIDYIS (Middle Years Information System) are another welcome arrow in the teacher's quiver.
June Izbicki Early-retired secondary teacher Dulwich, London SE22