Fifteen years after primary teachers were told that compulsory national tests were the best way to assess their seven-year-olds, now the edict from the DfES is that teachers must rely much more on their own judgment. At the end of this term, teachers must produce not a test level, but their own assessment level for each child, drawing on a smaller array of tests and tasks to help them where necessary.
Even though this is a change which has come about largely through consultation with teachers, it is still a source of anxiety to many.
Will they get it right? How should they make this switch from a reliance on tests to a reliance on knowledge about their pupils that they might carry in their heads? Which tests should they use, and when should they administer them?
Angela Cale, consultant for assessment for Surrey, says: "Teachers need to gain confidence in verbal discussion about children's progress, and have confidence in their own judgments. That is what I think has been taken away from them in recent years."
All seven-year-olds will still do a test or task in reading, writing and maths, emphasises Nigel Williams, principal officer for key stage 1 at the National Assessment Agency.
"But the number of tests is much smaller, and there is a lot more flexibility to use the tests at different times, diagnostically, for groups of children."
Schools now receive the tests before Christmas, and pupils can take them at any time between January and July. If a child obtains a level 2 in reading in February, for example, and then makes very good progress, the teacher could report a level 3 assessment at the end of the year, without the child having to take a further test.
Phil Hopgood, KS1 moderation manager for Lewisham, was involved in last year's pilot: "Teachers were initially a bit apprehensive, but we encouraged them to change one aspect of when they took the tasks and tests, such as doing the writing assessment in February or March, because it is a useful one diagnostically."
This year, he says, some Lewisham teachers have also done the reading test in the spring term. "Teachers are cautiously beginning to feel their way round this whole new freedom that they have. It's one step at a time."
The National Assessment Agency stresses that what they are not looking for is piles of evidence and portfolios of children's work. "Much of the evidence is in the teacher's head," says Nigel Williams. He suggests that one simple way to keep tabs on children's progress is by sticking Post-it Notes onto weekly planners, recording notable steps forward or difficulties.
He recommends that teachers focus on groups of children rather than individuals, noting where one child's achievement is not in line with the rest of the group.
Children themselves can be drawn into this process, says Angela Cale, at Surrey. "Part of the new assessment-for-learning approach that is coming in means working with children so that they are familiar with how to improve their own work."
Teachers also need to talk to each other more. Nigel Williams advocates a whole-school policy on assessment, so that, for instance, Years 2 and 3 teachers communicate more and Year 3 teachers do not duplicate Year 2 testing.
Angela Cale believes teachers need to spend time on "standardisation", by linking with local networks of schools.
Phil Hopgood in Lewisham says that, when he goes into schools to moderate, "it is dialogue with teachers that we want, as well as a look at children's ongoing work, and ongoing marking: that is a key message."
He also hopes to see more creativity. "In recent years, because of SATs, there was a temptation for teachers to move into much more subject-based teaching. Now that the test as ultimate hurdle has been taken away, teachers have been given permission to be much more creative in their approach."
* Building a Picture of What Children Can Do by the National Assessment Agency is available from the QCA
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