The government has closed a primary assessment loophole that provided an incentive for schools to enter children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) for tests they were likely to fail.
New updated guidance on primary school accountability, published by the Department for Education, reveals changes to the scores given to children working below the standard of the test.
The scaled scores, introduced with the new Sats last year, meant that children’s raw marks in the reading, maths and Spag tests were converted to a score of between 80 and 120 – where 100 is the expected standard.
'Loophole of despair'
For example, pupils scoring 21 or 22 out of 50 in the reading paper last year were given a scaled score of 100. Pupils scoring 0, 1 or 2 marks received no scaled score and pupils scoring three marks were given the lowest scaled score of 80.
But pupils who are judged as not able to do the test, including those with SEND, are assessed against a set of pre key-stage standards – and given a "nominal" score of 79, 76, 73 or 70, depending on which pre key-stage standard they are at. These scores are then used to calculate progress measures.
A loophole arose because children who were entered for the test but gained too few marks to be allocated the lowest scaled score of 80 were not included in the progress measures.
This mean that, in theory, schools’ progress measures could benefit if children who were expected to fail were entered into the test and failed, rather than being assessed as working at a pre key-stage standard, which guaranteed a low nominal score.
The phenomenon was described as the “progress loophole of despair” by data analyst and TES columnist James Pembroke, who pointed it out in a blog last year.
Headteachers were told that they should not enter children for the tests if the child was unable to answer even the easiest questions.
But now the government has said that, from 2017, pupils who are entered into the test but gain too few marks to be allocated a scaled score will be allocated nominal points. It does not say how many.
Rethink could be required
Mr Pembroke said the change was welcome but more needed to be done. “Assigning pupils who entered, but failed, the test a nominal score is welcome as it will stop schools from exploiting that particular loophole,” he said.
“But unfortunately those pupils will end up with big negative progress scores – just like the pupils who are assessed as working at pre key-stage standard.
"So it ends up as a punitive measure for those schools working with SEND pupils. The whole system of nominal scoring needs a rethink.”
In its guidance, the DfE said the change was being made in response to “feedback from schools and stakeholders”.
It added that, from 2017, it intends to include pupils in special schools in the calculation of KS1 prior attainment groups for the progress measures.
This will enable the department to have a wider range of starting points for measuring progress.
It also intends to change the current system of giving 70 nominal points to all SEND pupils who are assessed as working below the pre-key stage scales at KS2, with the aim of making better like-for-like comparisons between pupils.
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