Details of changes in assessment unfold

24 Apr

(1)       The Early Years

The government announced at the end of March 2014 that it would be introducing tests for four-year-old in 2016.   The baseline assessment will be taken at “the earliest possible point in school”, thought to be the first term of reception when most children are four. Schools will be able to choose from a number of approved assessments.

Proposals to rank pupils by decile – i.e. telling parents where precisely their children were at – the top, middling or bottom 10 per cent — have been dropped following widespread opposition.

If a school uses the baseline tests it will be judged on the progress its pupils make from the age of four to 11.

Plans for the new baseline measures have been controversial and come in for stick from the early years’ sector. Jan Dubiel, national development manager for Early Excellence, a training organisation, addressing the Westminster Education Forum on 30 January 2014, said that assessing four-year-olds was very different from testing older children. “I’m very concerned that we are going to slip into things which are easy to count, rather than the things that actually matter. I’m less concerned with where [the baseline] is and want to examine what we assess and how we assess it.”

Mr Dubiel, who oversaw the implementation of the Early Years’ Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile for the now defunct Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), said that there was good evidence linking non-academic aspects of children’s learning early in life with how they did later in school. Areas, such as children’s well-being, how involved they become in play and their language acquisition at age 4, have been shown to be good measures of children’s potential, said Mr Dubiel.

While these things are hard to measure, there are existing scales  that enable teachers to assess children on these aspects of development, he added. “In order to get a true picture of what a [early years] child is like you can’t just look at discrete subjects like English or maths; you need to look at things like learning behaviours and well-being. I could teach a child to count to 20 in an afternoon; they (sic) would learn it by rote, then you could test them (sic) on it. But it gives you no useful information about whether they have an understanding of number.”

In the response to the consultation published on 27 March 2014, just 34% of respondents supported the introduction of a baseline test at the start of reception — 51% were against the move.

The current early years’ assessment, called the EYFS profile, comes at the end of the reception year and is a broad assessment of pupils’ abilities and will become optional from 2016.

(2)       Key Stage 2

Because the new baseline tests will not be compulsory schools will have the option to be judged on attainment alone at Year 6 from 2023.

Under the reforms, 85% of pupils will have to pass the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in Year 6. The existing floor target is 65%.

According to Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union, the National Association of Headteacher (NAHT), many schools will opt for the new baseline tests as leaving it to the final year would be a gamble many schools would be unwilling to take.  Having good progress will keep a school above the floor targets, whatever the attainment of pupils, he said.

Speaking to The Times Educational Supplement (TES), he observed, “An attainment target of 85% will put about 12,000 schools below the floor. But it is not just 85% attainment, if you have good progress then you can fall below 85% attainment and there are no penalties associated with it.”

Where schools fall below the floor target, the government will investigate and intervene. If a school is deemed to be failing, the headteacher can be removed and the school turned into an academy.

The teacher assessments for children at age 7 will remain. At age 11, externally-set tests in reading, grammar, spelling and punctuation and mathematics will be taken by all pupils. A sample of pupils will also take a science test.

But the idea of ranking pupils has been dropped after the plans were heavily criticised. The original proposal included an example of a school report that stated: “Tom received a scaled score of 87. This places him in the bottom ten per cent of pupils nationally.”

Under the reforms, parents will still be given the results of their children’s tests as a scaled score – a score based around 100 where 100 denotes the standard expected for that age.

Schools minister David Laws said: “In primary schools, we are raising the bar to improve standards and introducing a proper measure of progress from when children start school to age 11. I want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths so that they can thrive at secondary school. A better start at secondary school is a better start in life.”

(3)       Secondary Reforms

The reforms come after changes to the secondary accountability system (see here), where Ofsted inspectors will refrain from visiting schools that have done exceptionally well.  However, the stakes will be raised for students sitting GCSEs with harder pass grades, which will be benchmarked to top-performing systems.

The qualifications will be introduced in September 2015 in England, with the first examinations in mathematics, English language and English literature to be taken by students in the summer of 2017.   The A* to G grades will be replaced with grades 9 to 1, with 9 being the top grade.  It is expected that only half of those who currently achieve A* will succeed in securing grade 9.  Grade 5 – equivalent to the current B – will be the “pass”, with grade 4 pegged to C. A “national reference test” will accompany the new arrangements.   A sample of year 11 students will sit this test to help ensure that improvements are authentic in the GCSE performance grades.

Ofqual, the body responsible for setting standards, is now seeking views on how “performance standard” (the standard required for a particular grade) should be set.  The consultation will run to 30 June 2014.  (See Ofqual’s consultation document here.)

(4)       A Levels

During the Easter holidays 2014, the government disclosed details of the first batch of 12 new A-levels.  It is clear that students will be required to be more au fait with content, which will be tested with end-of-course exams. The subjects are English literature and language, biology, chemistry, physics, history, art and design, business studies, psychology, economics, computer science and sociology.  Redesigned A levels will follow a year later in maths, further maths, languages and geography.

Altogether, 20% of marks will be awarded for extended essays in English and history, and a similar proportion for programming work in computer science. The rest will be assessed through written exams after a period of two years.

English literature A-level candidates will study eight texts. One would have been written in this century and three must pre-date 1900, including a Shakespeare play. Exams will include an analysis of an unseen text. History A-level students will study topics from a chronological range of at least 200 years.

Science A-levels will be judged by written examinations. The current system where 40% of marks are awarded for practical experiments assessed by teachers will be abolished.  However, Ofqual – the examination body that is spawning the new system – said that teachers must keep records showing that A-level students have conducted at least 12 practicals over two years. Exam questions will test their knowledge of these experiments and A-level certificates will record whether or not candidates passed the practical work.

Science A-levels will have greater mathematical content.  Standard deviation will be part of biology, aspects of calculus will be covered in physics and error analysis added to chemistry.

A-level computer science will change significantly. There will be an emphasis on programming, algorithms and computational problem-solving.

(5)       The International Scene

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, is keen for English students to scale up the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) league table.   However, this is proving to be more challenging for DfE (Department for Education) and Ofqual (Office for Qualifications) innovators than Gove envisages.   PISA is designed to measure how well students apply knowledge in the real world.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which oversees PISA, stressed that the international tests are not supposed to be an exercise for which you can prepare.  Rather, they assess 15-year-olds to derive a more holistic picture of their abilities.   GCSE  and A Level examinations, on the other hand, appear to be moving back to knowledge acquisition.

However, Professor Robert Coe, an expert who has advised Ofqual on their current GCSE consultation, informed the TES (Times Educational Supplement) that the evidence suggests that PISA and GCSE scores were comparable.  At any rate, Ofqual is committed to reviewing the GCSE benchmark against international standards periodically.

The latest news from the OECD is that the East Asian nationals (from Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Macao and Taiwan) are superior not only in mathematics, reading and science but also in solving problems.   This counters the criticism that they have been subjected to, that students are regimented through rote learning.  Francesco Avvisati of the OECD said: “Asian countries are particularly good at those tasks that require knowledge acquisition and those are the most abstract tasks that require higher levels of abstract reasoning and of self-directed learning …”  The seven areas with the highest mathematics results also performed best in problem-solving, though the order changed.  Singapore was top with South Korea and Japan ahead of Macao, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taiwan.

Andrea Schleicher, the OECD’s Acting Director for Education, remarked: “The world economy no longer pays you for what you know.  Google knows everything.  The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know.”

Canada, Australia, Finland and England took up the positions from 8th to 11th in the problem-solving league table.

 

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