Pupils fail 'when-ready' test trials

1st February 2008 at 00:00

Pilot results nosedive as KS2 and KS3 pupils struggle with Sats assessment experiment. Exclusive.

New tests intended to replace Sats within two years have suffered a serious setback because pupils have performed unexpectedly badly.

More than 400 schools - involving a total of 22,500 pupils - took part in pilots of the tests for 7- to 14-year-olds, which rely on teacher assessment and are taken when staff judge the pupils to be ready.

The change in approach is part of the Prime Minister's drive to increase personalised learning.

The single-level tests are also a key element of the Government's Children's Plan, which acknowledges parents' concerns about the pressure Sats put on children.

Last week the Government delayed publishing the results of the trials. It has asked the National Assessment Agency to investigate "unexpected patterns" in the scores. It said the unanticipated findings were not unusual in trials.

But the schools taking part can expect disappointing scores unless the way the papers are graded and analysed is changed before the results are released.

Under the Making Good Progress pilot, key stage 2 and 3 pupils take a 50- minute test in reading, writing or maths. Testing takes place twice a year, but each child is entered when their teacher believes they are capable of reaching a specific level, based on ability rather than age.

Possible reasons for the bad results are that teachers' assessments of pupils' levels were wrong, the tests were too hard, or that teachers were unable to coach the pupils because the tests were new.

Peter Price, headteacher of St Christopher's Primary in Liverpool, which took part in the pilot, said: "I would not be surprised if the results are not that good because there was little or no preparation for them. That is a good thing: we do not want this teaching to the test or repeated practice tests."

Professor Peter Tymms, director of the curriculum evaluation and management centre at Durham University, said the Government was making a mistake in trying to combine teachers' own assessment of pupils and test results in this way.

Although the new tests are trials, the results of the 22,500 pupils taking part will count towards their schools' league-table positions, provided pupils do better in the pilot than in their Sats.

The new tests differ from national curriculum assessments in that pupils have to show they have "securely" reached each test level. In Sats, a child just reaching the level's threshold is awarded that grade.

David Bell, permanent secretary at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, told MPs this week: "We have asked the National Assessment Agency to do some further work. We are not yet ready to come back with the results of that analysis."

Quick guide to new tests, page 4.

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