In search of a sense of achievement

14th April 1995 at 01:00
Chris Stevens explains how SCAA is researching the best way to record the progress of special needs pupils. In his final report on the national curriculum and its assessment, published in December 1993, Sir Ron Dearing said: "I recommend that the assessment and recording of achievement by pupils with special educational needs should be reviewed. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) should investigate ways in which the small steps of progress that pupils with special educational needs make are assessed, recorded and reported positively" (paragraph 6.8).

This view was borne out in the review of the national curriculum in 1994, when teachers of pupils with special educational needs reported that much of the progress their pupils made when working on the national curriculum programmes of study could not be recognised fully through existing end-of-key stage assessment arrangements.

Teacher assessment could identify the small steps of progress made by pupils. When this progress was set against an individual's performance on end-of-key stage tasks and tests, however, some pupils were assessed as working towards level 1 for several key stages, or remaining at the same level for more than one key stage. It could seem therefore that they were making no progress at all, though for most pupils this was not true.

Teachers asked that SCAA should try to establish good practice in assessing, recording and reporting the very real achievements of this group of pupils in ways which support teacher assessment.

To this end SCAA commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research to undertake research into effective practice currently in use in schools to accredit the achievement of pupils with special educational needs.

In particular, the Foundation was asked to look at work with three groups of pupils: o those with complex learning difficulties and disabilities who may be working towards or at level 1 for more than one key stage o those working at levels 1, 2 or 3 for several years or more than one key stage o those at key stage 4 working at or below grade G at GCSE and at or below the lowest level accredited by GNVQ.

The first stage of this research, which involved the collection of data, was completed in January 1995. It involved information on effective practice being sought from all local education authorities in England and Wales. LEAs were also asked to nominate schools in which practice in assessment, recording and accreditation was considered to be well developed and effective.

In all, 62 LEAs responded and 235 schools were nominated for their good practice. The nominations covered special schools and mainstream schools across all phases.

A representative sample of the nominated schools was drawn up and detailed case studies carried out in of them. Extensive information was collected on: o how the schools planned and delivered the curriculum and the roles played by both formative and summative assessment o how schools are identifying the small steps of progress made by pupils o how pupils' achievements were being assessed and recorded o how the underlying principles related to pupils at key stage 4.

Phase two of the research began in February 1995. It will o evaluate the criteria for good practice which emerged from the case studies in the first phase o assess the practicability and transferability of the models of good practice identified in the first phase to other schools o carry out specific tasks using the programmes of study and level descriptions.

This work will be carried out by groups of practitioners in England and Wales, led by National Foundation for Educational Research staff. The outcomes of the work will be discussed with a wide range of interested individuals and organisations.

The emerging data will be analysed and reviewed, and the final report of the project will aim to provide a framework for SCAA to use in supporting schools wishing to develop their practice in this area.

Chris Stevens is professional officer for special needs at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority A brief summary of the project's interim report, Small Steps of Progress in the National Curriculum, can be obtained free of charge from SCAA Publications, PO Box 590, London SE5 7EG. Tel 0171-701 6064.

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