New target practices

6th October 1995 at 01:00
Peter Lacey and Angela Walsh explain next year's tests and tasks at key stages 2 and 3.

In November, schools will receive information on the 1996 assessment arrangements. For teachers at key stages 2 and 3, this will include a small number of sample questions. Following advice given by teachers at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's evaluation conferences, there will be a separate booklet for teachers of mathematics at key stage 3.

There are three main changes in the national curriculum which have implications for end-of-key-stage assessment in 1996: o All the material to be taught during a key stage is specified in the programmes of study. Unlike last year, all tasks and tests will assess mathematics drawn from the programmes of study.

o Standards in mathematics are described in the level descriptions. These level descriptions do not define all the content at a level, but specify sufficient content for the demand at each level to be understood. Further guidance on interpreting standards, and using them to judge pupils' performance, can be found in the exemplification booklets sent to schools in July.

o The attainment targets for number and algebra have been brought together, and the new combined attainment target has a double weighting. This will allow assessment to reflect the new programmes of study by awarding more marks for number than algebra at the lower levels, and more marks for algebra than number at the higher levels.

The questions and layout of the tests will remain similar in appearance to those in 1995. Questions will, where appropriate, draw on material from more than one of the numbered subsections of the programmes of study.

Pupils will be required to apply their mathematical knowledge, skills and understanding to the solution of problems which will be set in a variety of contexts, including those which are purely mathematical. As in 1995, a proportion of the available marks in each test will be awarded for pupils' explanations of mathematical ideas.

Questions no longer target statements of attainment. The demand of each part of a question (ie, the degree of difficulty in obtaining each mark) will be determined by referring to the level descriptions and confirmed by referring to data collected through the process of trialling and pre-testing. This may lead to marks being awarded for performance above or below that level where a particular mathematical feature is mentioned in a level description. Questions may reflect this by including a range of demand wider than a single level. For example, a question essentially pitched at the demand indicated by the level 4 level descriptions may include an early part for which marks may more appropriately be related to performance indicated by lower level descriptions, and a more challenging final part may award marks for performance indicated by higher level descriptions.

In all the tasks, tests and extension papers, marks are spread across the three attainment targets: number and algebra; shape, space and measures; and handling data, in the approximate ratio of 2:1:1. Marks are evenly distributed over the range of demand indicated by the relevant level descriptions.

The tasks at key stages 2 and 3 are for the assessment of pupils working at levels 1 and 2. The 1996 tasks, and guidance in using and marking them, will be sent to schools in November. They may be administered at any time between the beginning of January and two weeks before the end of the summer term 1996. The tasks will, where necessary, draw on programmes of study for earlier key stages, assessing performance characterised by the level descriptions for levels 1 and 2. There will be more marks for number than for algebra in the number and algebra attainment target.

The key stage 2 tests, aimed at pupils working at levels 3 to 5, will assess mathematics drawn from the key stage 2 programme of study at the demand indicated by the level descriptions for levels 3 through to 5. The use of calculators will not be allowed in one of the two papers, to assess more reliably pupils' skills in applying a range of mental and written methods to solving number problems. More realistic data will be used in the paper where calculator use is permitted.

At key stage 2, an extension paper will assess mathematics drawn from the joint key stage 3 and 4 programme of study at the demand indicated by the level descriptions for level 6 in attainment targets 2, 3 and 4.

The key stage 3 tests, for the assessment of pupils working at levels 3 to 8, will remain presented in tiers as in 1995. They will assess mathematics drawn from the joint key stage 3 and 4 programme of study at a demand indicated by the level descriptions for levels 3 through to 8.

At key stage 3, in a similar pattern to key stage 2, a one-hour extension paper will assess mathematics drawn from the key stage 4 programme of study. Marks will be evenly distributed over the range of demand indicated by the descriptions for exceptional performance. There will be more marks for algebra than for number in the number and algebra attainment target.

Further details, along with exemplification in a small number of questions, will be included in the end of key stage assessment arrangements for 1996. SCAA is grateful to all those who have commented on the 1995 arrangements. Their views have been instrumental in the improvement of the quality and manageability of the statutory end-of-key-stage tests and tasks.

Peter Lacey and Angela Walsh are professional officers for mathematics at SCAA

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