19th September 1997 at 01:00
The national working party attempting to devise value-added measurements for + schools is to be revived. The group, which includes local authority + representatives, and is chaired by Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of + schools, has been in limbo since the general election but its work has been + given impetus by the Scottish Office drive to ditch raw exam results, as + revealed in The TES Scotland last week. This year's exam tables will start the + ball rolling with a column showing the value added as pupils move from Standard+ grade to Higher, the easiest qualitative yardstick. Schools that advance, slow+ or simply maintain pupil progress from fourth to fifth year will be identified+ for the first time.The walls surrounding what has become known as the "secret + garden" will be further breached with a leaflet for parents outlining the + Scottish Qualifications Authority's "standard tables" which are sent to every + secondary school. These compare the performance of subject departments and are + a standard management tool but little known outside professional circles.The + irony is that as information on school performance becomes more sophisticated + and "meaningful", comparisons will become more precise, exam results will + become more crucial and schools could arguably come under even greater pressure+ - albeit that the targets they will be aiming for from next session will start+ from current levels of performance and poverty.Nowhere is this stronger role + for assessment more striking than in primary schools. The Inspectorate + currently uses a broad measure of performance based on the proportion of pupils+ who have overtaken the various 5-14 stages. Pilots using teacher assessments + to discover whether a meaningful value-added score can be calculated have been + carried out in 18 schools in English and maths in primary 3, 5 and 7.HMIs are + confident the model can be used for other curriculum areas and at other stages.+ This approach has the added advantage that it is based on existing 5-14 + assessments and does not impose new burdens on teachers. Baseline assessment, + the first stage in the value-added process, is now set to add a powerful new + dimension. Education authorities across the country are required to introduce + it as part of the Government's #163;24 million early intervention programme + covering primaries 1 and 2. The Scottish Office hopes a co-ordinated approach + can be developed.There have been fears that baseline assessment, which starts + with the intake into each primary school and monitors later progress in + literacy and numeracy, amounted to testing five-year-olds to construct primary + league tables. Now it is seen as essential if schools are to intervene as early+ as possible to help pupils who fail to reach their "predicted scores". In + measuring pupil progress, of course, baseline assessment will also monitor the+ value added by the school.Many councils have seen the way the wind was blowing+ and begun screening intakes. Aileen Beck, area education manager in Fife with + responsibili ty for the early years, says there has been "significant work" on + assessment in the early years. Some schools are currently piloting a new system+ of assessment and record-keeping on "nursery into primary 1".Aberdeen has + checked out a number of commercial systems and trialled its own reporting on + pupils transferring from nursery into primary. The city is considering a system+ called "performance indicators in primary schools" (PIPS), devised by Durham + University.The system does much more than assess maths and reading in primary 1+ and offers a comprehensive picture of pupils at various stages in primary, + covering self-esteem and the quality of life within the school. PIPS also + measures non-verbal ability, picture vocabulary and "cultural capital" (the + amount of educational support within the home). Value-added scores for every + pupil and every school can be calculated. Jon Mager, assistant director of + education in Aberdeen, says the major advantage of the system is its predictive+ power. "Once you have got the profile of each pupil, you then have management + information which tells you if they are not doing as well as PIPS told you they+ should be doing, " Mr Mager says.The other advantage is that it takes no more + than 20 minutes. "It can be a paper and pencil exercise or transferred to a + CD-Rom, which means you are not tied in to buying lots of expensive computer + equipment, " Mr Mager says.There are disadvantages. PIPS is geared towards "key+ stages" of the national curriculum in England and Wales, although Aberdeen + believes that is not problematic if it is simply used to assess primary pupils + on entry. And there is a cost of #163;30 per school for baseline assessment + plus #163;1.20 per pupil, with a further #163;19 per school and 50p per pupil+ for assessment at the end of primary 1, although there are discounts for a + large volume of business.Aberdeen now hopes to adapt PIPS to a Scottish context+ with the help of Linda Croxford from Edinburgh University. Dr Croxford + believes baseline assessment has the potential to be of more practical and + systematic use to both schools and parents than 5-14 assessment or the raw data+ of published exam tables. "These are supposed to be part of an 'information + for parents' initiative," she comments. "But parents find the information of + limited use. To be told your child is working at level C or has attained level + B is not very illuminating. Parents want to know whether their child is doing + as well as he or she should be, and how he or she compares with others."Dr + Croxford says the weakness of value-added approaches has been their + retrospective nature, with the results too late to take action. "What we need + to do is to take the same statistical tools and measure the progress of pupils + while they are still there, trying to predict how they should be performing and+ intervening if they are falling behind. It should be a proactive rather than + judgmental process."HMI believes that the targets in literacy, numeracy and SCE+ results which will be introduced next session can be set using value-added + scores. The "school characteristic index", which will use free meals and + parents' qualifications to set a socio-economic context for every school, will + ensure the targets are "realistic and achievable".One Scottish Office source + said the school characteristic index with a value-added approach was "the + essential combination since you cannot have one without the other. In that, we + are light years away from other countries, including south of the border."