New-look national tests for children at the end of key stages 1 and 2 are being piloted in schools across the country. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority plans to introduce the changes in summer 2003. This is the first time the tests have been altered since 1995, apart from the introduction of KS2 mental maths in 1998. There will be alterations in all three core subjects and both key stages, but some details will not be decided until after 1,500 children take pilot tests this spring and summer.
The QCA plans to send its revised plans and sample questions to schools at the beginning of autumn 2002. In English, KS1 remains largely the same, but at KS2 schools should expect to see: * the "copy a paragraph" handwriting test abolished;
* two compulsory writing tasks for each student, one fiction and one non-fiction, instead of the current choice of one from several options;
* a new mark scheme covering spelling, handwriting, punctuation, organisation of the texts, composition and overall effect.
Teachers had criticised the way markers had to match students' work to the level they thought it resembled in sample "level descriptors", explained Tim Cornford, head of assessment at the QCA. They had also argued that the level descriptors were not closely enough matched to the national literacy strategy.
"What teachers have been saying to us very clearly over the past couple of years is that the assessment needs to follow the way in which the curriculum is going," Mr Cornford said. "We are not redefining what a level two or a level four is. We will use a different mark scheme, but the process of pre-testing will give us a very clear equating of the old tests with the new ones."
In KS1 and 2 mathematics, pupils will be given more problem-solving questions to test the investigative element of the national curriculum - AT1 - more fully. A sample KS2 question might say: "Children in a school voted on the colour for a new school sweatshirt. The choices were green, blue or red; 40 per cent voted for green; half wanted red; 32 children voted for blue. How many children voted altogether?"
"The normal way of presenting this kind of question would be as data-handling with a chart," said Mr Cornford. "This way, we are asking them to think about a percentage, a fraction and a whole number in the context of a single question. We already have problem-solving in maths, but we are trying to put in a bit more."
In science (KS2 only), there will be no reintroduction of practical tasks such as floating and sinking, which brought about the collapse of the original tests in the early 1990s, but pupils will be asked to use their investigative skills more fully. For example, they might be asked to plan an outdoor investigation of shadows, using the sun and a stick. Possible questions might include: what factor would you vary during the investigation? What outcome are you looking at? What units of measurement would you use? What factor would you keep the same in order to ensure a fair test?
The most and least able pupils will see one other change affecting all subjects. For the least able, the QCA is to publish a bank of assessment tasks enabling teachers, particularly at KS2, to offer these children a progress check without subjecting them to inappropriate tests.
For the most able pupils, the opportunity to take level 4 at seven, and level 6 at 11 is to be abolished. Instead there will be 3* and 5* levels, expected to be achieved by the top 5 per cent of pupils on extension questions within the papers for levels 3 and 5 respectively.
This is partly because most schools cannot realistically teach the curriculum content for the higher levels. But it is also because the level 6 paper was costly for the QCA to administer - pound;40 per entry, instead of the standard pound;10 - and pointless for the vast majority taking it. Level 6 papers were taken by 60,000 pupils in 2000, says QCA; only 2,844 (0.15 per cent of all 11-year-olds) gained a grade, while many got no marks at all.
Schools interested in participating in the QCA's future pilots (current ones are already fully subscribed) should call Jackie Bawden, principal manager of statutory assessment at the QCA on 020 7509 5555