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Trial of strengths

New proposals to assess reception children are being developed. Diane Hofkins discusses their criteria.

All children starting reception class in two years time will be assessed on their skills in the 3Rs under Government proposals published this week. The information gained, which would require a new law to be enacted, will be used as a "baseline" against which to judge schools' performance.

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority set out plans for a national framework for baseline assessment in a set of draft proposals which went out to consultation this week. It would allow local schemes to continue, although they would have to meet a set of criteria, and it would require all schools without a baseline assessment scheme to set one up.

SCAA proposes three models, all of which are designed to allow "value added" judgments about schools' effectiveness to be made later. One is a checklist of 20 reading, writing and number skills; another is the checklist plus a profile of each child across a range of areas including creativity and physical development, and the third asks teachers to choose "best fit" descriptions set at three levels in six areas.This third model is like the "level descriptions" used in teacher assessment at ages 7, 11 and 14. All three are being trialled in a random selection of schools this term.

The national framework will require schemes to: * assess all children, including those whose first language is not English * be sufficiently detailed to identify individual children's learning needs, including special needs * enable children's later progress to be monitored * involve parents in partnership * take place in the first half term of a child's time in school * focus as a minimum on early literacy and numeracy * be unobtrusive for children * be manageable for teachers * provide outcomes which will contribute to value-added measurement.

In addition, they will be encouraged to include accounts of personal and social development, physical development, creative development and other aspects such as knowledge and understanding of the world, and to form an integral part of the school's assessment policy.

model1 enables teachers to assess each child in relation to the Government's "Desirable Outcomes" for children starting school, published last winter. It sets out criteria at three levels. Category A is the most difficult, usually equating to Level 1 of the national curriculum. Category B (average) describes performance in line with the desirable outcomes. Category C describes performance below that level. Teachers are expected to use the same "best fit" approach as when making national curriculum assessments. Some examples are shown in the right-hand column.

model 2 is a checklist of early literacy and numeracy skills. The list is to be refined before any final publication. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has drawn up a much longer list and hopes to discover which items are useful for predicting future performance. For most items, teachers should form judgments based on watching the child at normal activities.

Reading 1 Holds books appropriately while turning the pages and retelling the story from memory.

2 Uses his or her memory of familiar text to match some spoken and written words.

3 Recognises letters by shape and sound.

4 Reads familiar words in a range of contexts.

5 Reads simple texts.

Writing 1 Uses symbols and letters in his or her own writing.

2 Writes his or her own name with appropriate upper and lower case letters.

3 Hears sounds in words and writes the corresponding letters in sequence.

4 Attempts to write sentences.

5 Attempts to spell unfamiliar words.

Mathematics 1 Creates own pattern.

2 Orders objects by size.

3 Demonstrates 1:1 correspondence by matching item to item.

4 Identifies ordinal position in sequences.

5 Counts objects accurately.

6 Recognises numerals.

7 Writes numerals.

8 Adds using objects.

9 Subtracts using objects.

10 Solves simple numerical problems using addition and subtraction.

The proposals give criteria against which to judge children's attainments. For example under "Writes numerals", it says: "The child is able to write the numerals 0-9 recognisably in response to the teacher saying the numeral name." For "recognises letters by shape and sound", it says: "The child recognises more than 15 letters by saying the appropriate sound when the letter shapes are presented randomly in written form. There should be no picture clues provided. " For "reads familiar words in a range of contexts", it says: "The child reads at least five familiar words in a range of contexts such as classroom signs and notices, the computer screen, television programmes, packaging, book covers, posters as well as in simple texts. One of the words may be his or her first name."

model 3 incorporates the checklist and a series of profiles for each child in each of six areas: personal and social development, language and literacy, mathematics, knowledge and understanding of the world, physical development and creative development.

The consultation period will last until 8 November. SCAA will be seeking views through questionnaires to schools, LEAs and other organisations; regional conferences; a survey of perceptions of parents and the general public; consultation meetings with representatives of a range of organisations. SCAA's final advice will go to the Secretary of State in January 1997.

Copies of the proposals are available from: SCAA Publications, PO Box 235, Hayes, Middx UB3 1HF, tel 0181 561 4499.

Examples from Model 1

A is the most advanced b is the target for an average child c is the least advanced Language and Literacy Writing a Writing communicates meaning through simple words and phrases. Begins to show awareness of how full stops are used. Letters are usually clearly shaped and correctly orientated.

b Uses pictures, symbols, familiar words and letters, to communicate meaning, showing awareness of some of the different purposes of writing. Writes his or her name with appropriate use of upper and lower case letters.

C Shows signs of control in making marks on paper. Sometimes says what he or she has attempted to write and distinguishes between marks and drawings. Some marks resemble letters. Shows an awareness of how writing is organised.

Mathematics Number a Counts, orders, adds and subtracts numbers when solving problems involving up to 10 objects. Reads and writes the numbers involved. Recognises and makes repeating patterns, counting the number of each object in each repeat. Describes the properties and positions of shapes. Measures and orders objects using direct comparison.

b Is familiar with number rhymes, songs, stories, counting games and activities. Compares, sorts, matches, orders, sequences and counts using everyday objects. Recognises and uses numbers to 10 and is familiar with larger numbers from everyday life. Through practical activities understands and records numbers, begins to show awareness of number operations, and to use the language involved.

c Is becoming familiar with some number rhymes, songs and stories. Recognises some numbers and attempts to count everyday objects.

Creative Development a Organises and performs sequences of sounds. Identifies and uses contrasts such as highlow, longshort. Records ideas and feelings in two and three dimensions, responding to experience and imagination. Begins to develop his or her ideas and is confident in using a variety of materials, tools and resources.

b Explores sound and colour, texture, shape, form and space in two and three dimensions. Responds in a variety of ways to what he or she sees, hears, smells, touches and feels. Through art, music, dance, stories and imaginative play, child shows an increasing ability to use his or her imagination, to listen and to observe. Uses a widening range of materials, tools, instruments and resources to express ideas and to communicate feelings.

c Responds to sounds through movement and shows awareness of colours, shapes, forms and textures. Creates and uses his or her own sounds and uses materials, tools and resources to record ideas and feelings in different forms.

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