Schoolzone: the primary assessment consultation

Primary assessment and accountability

When the primary accountabilty consultation was launched in July 2013, Schoolzone convened panels of primary headteachers to discuss the implications. This article is based on their responses: full report here.


Is there life after levels?

Essentially, in scrapping national curriculum levels, Michael Gove removes all the structure from foundation subjects. Now all we have is a vague statement of intent about what children should learn, stripping away any hierarchy of concepts which teachers, parents and children have been using for years to differentiate learning and to identify where to go next.

Instead of these “opaque level descriptions” as the consultation document describes them, schools will have to provide parents with “further detail on their child’s strengths and weaknesses in all subjects”.

Core subjects in primary schools now have a year-by-year definition, where assessment can only measure what proportion of the content (or some cases skills) children have grasped. The levels are still effectively there, though they are much broader and now called years. So an underperforming year 6 child might, for example, find himself using year 3 resources.

Assessment without levels will mean that there is no national comparison, making it difficult for schools to know whether they are on track to meet Ofsted progress measures, or even to understand what these are - see floor standards discussion below. The plan is that schools can use whatever assessment schemes they like (and they hope that teaching schools et al will develop these) because Ofsted will consider whatever system is in place.


SATs will still be sat

SATs face an important change in emphasis: no levels to report on, but instead an IQ-like measure of literacy and numeracy skills where, every year, the mean scaled point score is 100 and children will be ranked above or below this measure, to be known as the secondary ready standard. A decile reporting system will identify children as being in the top 10% of examinees, the bottom 10% or some other 10% band in between. KS2 reporting will also show how well they have performed compared to (KS1 and) baseline testing.

This will have the effect that schools will not be focusing all their efforts at getting as many children over a single barrier (level 4) as possible, but boosting the performance of all children, to maximise their performance against the baseline. A good thing, presumably, but very demanding on schools, who will need as much as support as they can get.

Schools will be measured in a similar way: those who don’t get 85% of their cohort within a few scaled points of 100 will draw Ofsted’s attention: the floor standard, of which, more later.

On the upside, extension papers (level 6) will be a thing of the past as new SATs will stretch further and performance tables will show three year rolling data. They will also show quite a bit more detail about how well the school has performed and be comparable with schools with similar baselines, so let’s hope the DfE get the measures right. Hopefully the new data portal will also fold in RAISEonline (it sounds very similar) so that all the data is in one place.

So it all sounds quite well considered from an accountability point of view (at least as far as maths and English are concerned) but leaves schools in the dark about how to use assessment for learning. This is a shame because the DfE also says that “the assessment framework must be built into the school curriculum”. Oh, and that “at the end of each key stage, schools are required to report teacher assessment judgements in all national curriculum subjects to parents”. And (it gets better) they “propose to continue publishing teacher assessment in English, mathematics and science”.

There’s a bonus at secondary level as comprehensives which compete with nearby grammars will have a fairer value added because the new SATs should remove the artificially lowered KS2 baseline which has hitherto pertained in grammars.


How base is the new baseline?

The DfE seems a little stuck on whether to put baseline testing at the end of KS1, where SATs would suffice, but where schools may be to tempted to deflate performance, or at the start of reception where it is more difficult/expensive/unreliable to conduct since most children can’t read or write then. In the latter case it would be up to teachers to administer a statutory assessment provided by the DfE. In the latter case the KS1 SATs would then only be needed for infant schools.

And, in the spirit of letting schools do their own thing, the DfE is also considering letting schools choose assessments from a range of providers. Or even, err… not doing it at all.


A “challenging” floor but a “fair” floor

Floor standards are the things that schools need to meet, or from now on, be comfortably above. It won’t be enough for schools to be on the floor, Ofsted will be down on schools which are only slightly above the floor. But that’s not all: schools will not only be measured according to how near they are to the floor, but in the progress they have made from the baseline in getting to their position in relation to the floor.
So a school which is below the floor, on the floor, or slightly above the floor, but which has a lot of children who have risen well above their baseline to get there, will be fine, Ofstedly speaking. Whereas a school which isn’t high enough above the floor, given how high its children’s baseline was, will not be fine.

So what was the floor again? Schools will be expected to have 85% of its students, secondary ready (see above). However, the document admits, “it may take time for all schools to reach this standard,” leaving teachers in difficult schools wondering what sort of time it means. A couple of paragraphs later, we have, “over time we will consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards”. Is that a longer time or a shorter time?

Hang on a minute though, over the page we have, “Floor standard measures could also include an average point score attainment measure. Schools would be required to achieve either the progress measure or both the threshold and average point score attainment measure to be above the floor”. I think we’ve covered that already…

But is it a floor or is it a threshold? Are they different somehow? A frequency check on the consultation document scores threshold at 8 and floor at 28. So floor has it, even if it’s an unlevelled floor.

Oh, and in case you’re getting confused with baseline that’s the thing that progress is measured from, while headline is the sort of measure that the will be used in performance tables.

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