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A plus for value-added?;Briefing;Document of the week

New proposals for measuring pupils' progress have been released. Nicholas Pyke reports

Bureaucracy doesn't come much more bureaucratic than recording thousands of test scores. Despite this, schools will probably welcome the latest value-added document from the Department for Education and Employment and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - particularly those that feel unfairly treated by the annual publication of league tables.

Value Added Measures in School Performance Tables lays out plans for the first national measure, school by school and pupil by pupil, setting raw results in the context of pupil intake.

Already there are several independent value-added schemes, including those run by Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon of Durham University and Professor Harvey Goldstein at London University's Institute of Education.

But the real centre of interest is the Government's approach, which the QCA's document sets out. This will directly affect a school's reputation and its league-table placing.

The magic words "value-added" were bandied about last autumn when the GCSE league tables compared three years of consecutive results. This was a rough indicator of improvement, but ignored pupil intake.

Another version of value-added will appear in next autumn's tables when schools' average GCSEGNVQ results will be compared with their key stage 3 test scores. This - described as the first step on the way to a comprehensive measure - received "one cheer" from the academic experts. The proposal has its own consultation exercise (the document is available from Sarah Church, DFEE room 2AL12, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith St, London SW1BP 3BT).

But this is still a partial approach, operating with broad averages rather than data built up pupil by pupil. The latest QCA proposals go much further. It has already agreed to publish a national value-added system for internal school use this autumn (part of the "benchmarking" exercise). Now it is proposing a way of including the information in league-table form.

The system will work by plotting the national average performance of pupils based on their progress between national curriculum tests and GCSE results.

Individual schools will be able to calculate how far above or below that norm its individual pupils are performing. These scores will then be aggregated to form a school average.

The QCA has imposed two crucial limits on the scope of its proposed system. It will not take into account pupils' social circumstances. This will attract some criticism, since poverty unquestionably plays a part. The QCA's reply is that pupils' prior attainment (the input data) is by far the most powerful predictor of future achievement, accounting for roughly 70 per cent of the difference in results between similar pupils.

The second limit is statistical. The systems used by academics rely on complex regression mathematics with several rival models in play. Raw results need a dealof "handling" before they arepresented.

The QCA has ruled out this approach and will stick to the national curriculum data. In doing so, it makes its own task, as well as the job for schools, easier. It has also extricated itself from the battles waged by the value-added gurus by stopping short of the detailed ground they contest.

Copies of 'Value Added Measures in School Performance Tables' and accompanying questionnaire from: QCA Publications, POBox 235, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1HF. Tel: 0181 867 3333. The closing date for comments is June 10, 1998.


What the QCA suggests:

* Value-added measures should be introduced in three stages: between key stage 3 and GCSE; ks 2 and GCSE and ks 1 and ks2.

* The measure should be based on the progress between the average levels achieved by each pupil in the national curriculum tests and, in secondary schools, the attainment per pupil across the range of GCSEGNVQs. Primary school progress will be measured between KS1 and KS2. Views are invited on whether an average points per entry or a total points approach should be used.

* How should value added measures be calculated and presented in the performance tables? A pupil's value-added score is the difference between that pupil's attainment and the median attainment of pupils with the same input score. A school's value-added measure should be an aggregate of these scores. These scores should be presented as bands for simplicity. The QCA wishes to know if there should be three bands or five.

Other issues

* Pupils moving between schools; l Pupils with incomplete test results; l Small schools where the effect of one or two pupils can be dramatic; l Inclusion or not of independent and special schools.

Possible timetable

Secondary schools

Key stage 3 to GCSEGNVQ - from 1999 or 2000

Key stage 2 to GCSEGNVQ - from 2003

Primary schools

Key stage 1 to KS2 - from 2002 or 2003

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