Wales: New Assessment method brings improvements

19th May 2000 at 01:00
THIS year saw a major break between England and Wales in the national tests (SATs) for all subjects. For the first time pupils, sitting the key stage 2 and 3 tests in England had totally different papers to those in Wales. The new format of the mathematics SATs for Wales is a big improvement. Here, for the first time, the questions for levels 3, 4 and 5 at KS2 are a subset of those for KS3. In the past, great play has been made on the difference in experience of the two cohorts and it has been accepted that this has necessitated totally different papers, with different styles of questions. This has been challenged by many but the political necessity for keeping the assessment in England the same until 2002, so that "standards" could be shown to have risen, prevented change.

Why should we want to? We must have equivalence between the two key stages. I have often heard secondary teachers say of their new Year 7s: "They say they are level 5 but they are not really." This devaluing of pupils' results partly came about because there was no easy way in which achievement, of a level 4 say, in the KS2 tests could be compared with that at KS3. Value added between Year 6 and Year 9, as measured by an improved SATs score for a pupil, had no basis in fact. It is almost impossible to get true equivalence between attainment at a specific level at the tw key stages without similar questions.

There is no real justification for totally different styles of paper for the two key stages. A well-worded question on a particular level 4 topic is appropriate for both. This has been shown in trials in primary and secondary schools in Wales and England, and by comments from the many teachers who took part in the trials. It is probably true that pupils at KS3 have the maturity to cope with a longer test, and it is also true that there is some content in the KS3 level 3-5 national curriculum that is not appropriate for KS2. The former allowed the papers at KS3 to be 15 minutes longer than those at KS2, thus accommodating the latter in the papers used in Wales.

If you teach in England look at this year's tests for Wales. Surely this equivalence is what we should be aiming at for all our pupils?

One final note on this year's SATs. The results for this year may well be slightly worse than last year. The fact that Easter was so late has meant that pupils had little or no time to consolidate their work after the Easter break. QCA made some allowance for this in England by making the tests a week later but Wales had the same timetable as last year.

Ann Kitchen is a research fellow at the University of Manchester and immediate past chair of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics

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