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On the level

Teachers have different ways of grading their pupils' achievement. While some use the national curriculum level description framework word for word, others concentrate only on some elements of the descriptions. Some teachers ignore the criteria altogether, preferring to rank children by comparing them with other pupils seen as representing a certain level.

Teachers of seven-year-olds in six primary schools who took part in a research study said they were unhappy at having to assess children only according to academic criteria; the system overlooked such crucial issues as adjustment to school, behaviour, effort, motivation and self-esteem, they said.

While they felt confident in making ongoing judgments of children's progress, they were much less sure of themelves when it came to formally allocating levels at the end of key stage 1. The lack of clarity involved in selecting one of eight levels that "best fits" a child's performance in each attainment target was particularly problematic. The teachers who were most confident worked in schools where planning and assessment were fully discussed among year group or key stage teaching staff.

Teachers, conclude the authors of the report, need training to help them understand what level descriptions are meant to do, and how best to use them.

Teacher Assessment of Seven Year Olds in England: A Study of its Summative Function by Kathy Hall and Austin Harding, in Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, Vol 20, Number 1. Trentham Books.

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