Test-heavy baseline assessments rejected by schools

Helen Ward

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Teachers have largely rejected moves to introduce "baseline" tests for four- and five-year-old children in their first few weeks of school.

The government revealed today that only three of the original six baseline assessment providers have signed up enough schools to continue. 

Two of these providers – Early Excellence and the National Foundation for Educational Research – use observations to assess children’s language, literacy and maths skills at age 4. The ICT-based test from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University, also remains as an option.

But GL Assessment and Speech Link (which offered computer-based tests) and Hodder Education (which created a paper-based test) are no longer on the approved provider list.

Providers had to sign up at least 10 per cent of primary schools (about 1,700) in order to be approved. From September 2016, only baseline assessments from approved providers will count in progress measures.

Early Excellence, which offers an entirely observation-based assessment, is by far the most popular provider and has said that it has signed up more than 11,000 primaries. 

The baseline assessment policy has been deeply controversial, prompting threats of a national boycott. And although many schools have opted for assessments that score children based on observations, rather than expecting children to sit a short test, teaching unions are concerned about any grading of such young children.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL and Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said in a joint statement: “We are deeply concerned about the introduction, this September, of the baseline assessment of four- and five-year-old children in reception classes. We believe that it is essential for teachers to assess children as they start school, in order to plan learning that supports and challenges each individual. But we believe that the national baseline system has been designed to provide numerical scores rather than useful information for teaching. None of the assessment schemes listed in the Department for Edaucation’s announcement is an exception to this rule.

“We are concerned that baseline is a measure which will further contribute to the narrowing of the primary curriculum, and to its dominance by a culture of testing, which is neither in the interests of teachers nor of children.”

The unions also believe that the late timing of the announcement contradicted a commitment made by the DfE in February to give much more notice for changes related to accountability.

Schools which have signed up with a provider which has not been approved can use that baseline test for their own information, but the DfE will neither reimburse the costs or use that baseline assessment to report progress.

The baseline assessment is not statutory, but without it primary schools will only be held accountable for attainment and not progress.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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