Briefing:The low-down on the national tests;Report
The analysis of last year's key stage 1 and 2 national test results hit the headlines because, in reading at least, 11-year-olds seemed to be in sight of that element of the Government's English target for 2002. What the newspapers didn't tell you was that much of the information in the three volumes produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority may be much more useful to teachers than simple headline figures suggest.
What the reports say
At key stage 1 there is clearly an issue over the English results, which reveal a decline in the number of children reaching level 3, although the proportion reaching level 2 increased. In writing, the level 3 performance has fallen sharply on 1995. The QCA suggests this is because grades were introduced within level 2, but the discrepancy between 26 per cent of children reaching level 3 in reading (and 20 per cent in maths) and only 6 per cent in writing seems a large one. Schools might ask themselves why this is so.
The splitting of the English results at key stage 2 for the first time into three components confirms what has been apparent at key stage 1: children read better than they write, and write better than they can spell. The irony is that many of the spelling mistakes analysed in the reports show that children have learned simple phonics but cannot cope with the irregularities of the English language. As the report says, "Children need help with the analysis of sounds in words and the different ways they are written down so that they do not rely on the simple sound-symbol correspondence."
Get the most from the report
For the class teacher, the value of these annual reports lies in the implications of the results for teaching and learning, and the specific examples of where children are going wrong.
At key stage 1, advice is offered on reading comprehension, spelling, and on writing techniques and mathematics.
On reading, it is suggested that within level 2 children should be asked focused questions about the texts they have read in order to develop their ability to make inferences. For instance, in the story The Guest, an apparently straightforward question, "How did Owl speak to Winter?" required children to interpret from the dialogue whether the owl had been speaking "crossly", "softly", "kindly", and so on.
The aspect of this story that children found difficult was the personification of Winter. Only half the children were able to answer the question, "Who was the guest in the story?" correctly. The QCA justifies the use of the question by the need to identify the most able readers at level 2.
In key stage 1 maths, attention is drawn to the need to teach a wide range of mathematical vocabulary and to little things like the correct use of pounds and pence signs. Many children need more experience in solving problems linked to the interpretation of data (such as comparing two frequencies on a table or graph and calculating the difference), in reading scales and interpreting calibrations, and in estimating qualities and measurements.
In reading, there is apparently still a need for children to be helped to look carefully for evidence in the text and develop an ability to infer from it. In writing, children need more opportunity to explore non-narrative texts and to discuss how they are organised. They should also be encouraged to write more varied sentences and to plan the endings of their stories at the start. In spelling, predictable patterns of consonant doubling and long vowel sounds need to be practised.
The list of priorities for teaching and learning maths at key stage 2 includes the need for further work on multiplication, negative number, decimals, irregular and rotating shapes, and tabulation by means of grids. In science, the tests reveal the need for a wider range of investigative and experimental work and, as with maths, the need for children to learn and use scientific vocabulary.
Standards at KeyStage 1 - English and Mathematics Standards at Year 4 - English and Mathematics Standards at KeyStage 2 -English,Mathematics and Science pound;3 each from QCA Publications, PO Box 235, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1HF Take the initiative
You are allowed to help pupils sitting the key stage 2 tests in a number of ways, without getting special permission from the local authority or the QCA:
* Children with a special-needs statement, or at stage four of the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice, can have 25 per cent extra time.
* For all pupils, you can break down the tests into coherent sections, with breaks between them.
* For pupils with a serious visual impairment, you can photo-copy papers on coloured paper, or use coloured overlays and filters.
* You can make the diagrams on the test papers clearer by enhancing the shading or making lines bolder.
* You can enlarge the diagrams, cut them out and mount them on card, to match the way pupils are used to seeing materials in class. You must not alter the diagrams in any other way.
* In maths and science you can provide real objects that look like those in the tests. In maths, be careful that shapes and relative sizes are the same.
* Children used to using number apparatus such as Dienes in class can use it in the maths test.