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SATs changes on the way

Sue Palmer on plans to make the tests more diagnostic

Plans to award 3* and 5* grades to top achieving seven and 11-year-olds in next year's national tests have been dropped. Now the most advanced youngsters will still be able to achieve levels 4 and 6, but they will be judged through teacher assessment. Optional tasks for this purpose are being produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and there will be no more extension papers for the most able children after 2002.

Letters outlining the alterations for all three subjects from 2003 are being sent to schools by the QCA.

The main changes in the long-awaited revised SATs are, as teachers expected, to the writing section of the English test. From now on, children will be asked to produce two pieces of writing, and at key stage 2 there will be no element of choice. The QCA briefing paper says: "All pupils will complete the same tasks, which will be varied in purpose, form and topic."

Fiction-writing may or may not be included in any given year. The separate handwriting task will also be dropped.

At KS1, the genres for writing will be specified, but some choice of content will be allowed. Teachers will continue to set up the writing tests like normal writing lessons, and can assess handwriting within the tests or separately.

Changing to two tasks will provide a wider range of writing for assessment purposes but the QCA believes it also offers a better opportunity for children to demonstrate their writing skills. The minor task gives a purpose for a shorter piece of writing, demonstrating at Year 2 that "long" is not synonymous with "good" and, at KS2, encouraging children to write concisely and precisely.

The reason behind the changes is an attempt by the QCA to make national tests into something more educationally useful than the present "summative assessment" at the end of each key stage. The new tests are based on a carefully devised mark scheme intended to provide information for diagnostic assessment. From 2003, all national English tests (optional and statutory) for children from seven to 14 will be based on this mark scheme. By computer analysis of the data from the tests, schools should eventually be able to track children's literacy development from Years 2 to 9. Teachers will then know exactly where there are gaps in knowledge and understanding for individual children, a group or a whole class, and can plan and teach accordingly.

At both key stages, the reading tests remain essentially the same, with questions keyed more closely to the new mark scheme.

In the maths test, there will be more problem-solving questions; in science, children will be expected to demonstrate their investigative skills more fully, for instance by planning an investigation. The test will not include practical activities such as floating and sinking, which caused chaos in the early 1990s when SATs were first introduced. At KS1, science will continue to be graded through teacher assessment.

The QCA advises that the changes should not result in major alterations to planned teaching, at least until Spring 2003, when teachers begin explicitly preparing pupils for the tests. Sample test materials and details on the mark scheme will be sent to schools in October.

KS1 writing test

The major task will be marked in three strands: sentence structure; punctuation; composition and effect. The minor task will be marked in two strands: sentence structure and punctuation; composition and effect.

The major task should take up to 45 minutes, the minor task up to 30 minutes.

There will be a separate spelling test of 20 words.

Handwriting can be assessed in the writing tasks or separately.

There will be guidance about assessing spelling in pupils' own writing for optional use.

KS2 writing test The major writing task will be allocated 40 minutes, including planning time. It will be continuous writing in either narrative or non-narrative form.

Marking will be in three strands: sentence structure and punctuation; text structure and organisation; composition and effect.

The minor task will be 25 minutes, including planning time, and will ask for about two or three paragraphs of narrative or non-narrative writing. Pupils will be asked to write concisely and precisely. A format may be provided, and it will not necessarily be continuous writing.

Marking will be in two strands: sentence structure, punctuation and text organisation; and composition and effect.

The tasks will be set consecutively, but pupils will be given a break between them.

There will still be a separate spelling test.

Clearer criteria for handwriting (up to three marks) will be introduced, to assess the "best" section of writing on the writing test.

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