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Schools being left in Assessment limbo

13 Apr

In September 2014, the government scrapped the use of levels, which teachers had previously used to assess the progress and achievements of pupils at Key Stage 1 and 2.  The government did so for good reason i.e. to lessen the workload of teachers.  However, parents still expect to know how well their children are doing and the education watchdog, Ofsted, requires schools to demonstrate that the quality of teaching and learning and the educational provision is impacting positively on our young folk.  So, it is now left to schools to determine what assessment system to use when judging pupils’ progress and standards.

The government began a consultation in the Autumn Term 2014 to establish tools to replace levels with something better.  It tested out the views of the professionals on introducing performance descriptors.  See also page 30 of Governors’ Agenda Issue 60.

The consultation closed in December 2014 and the government published the outcome of it.  While there was general agreement that something must replace levels, there were criticisms about the use of the performance descriptors which the government wished to introduce.  Continue reading

Assessment – Performance Descriptors to replace Levels

3 Jan

Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education, abolished levelling – the tool schools have been using to determine the standards of pupils and the progress they make.  This was because it was supposed to be too complex and confusing.  Schools now have to decide how best to measure the advancements of their pupils.   On 23 October 2014, the DfE started a consultation on performance descriptors, which its experts aver will be a more effective method for making judgements on pupils’ abilities at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2. The deadline for responses was 18 December 2014.

Should these descriptors be adopted by the government, they will come into effect in 2016.  For the end of each key stage, the government will set the expected standards in reading, writing, mathematics and science.   During the in-between years, schools will be expected to make their own assessment arrangements. Performance descriptors for pupils at the end of Key Stage 1 will be in reading, writing and mathematics.  The government will provide one descriptor for the expected standard in science.   It will set a number of descriptors for English at the end of Key Stage 2 and a single descriptor at this stage for each of the subjects – reading, mathematics and science.   Key Stages 1 and 2 test results will be reported against scaled scores rather than levels.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Bar raised for the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests

2 Jan

Even the more heavyweight papers carried “alarming” headlines of doom and gloom when announcing the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Test results.   “More than 700 primaries fail Gove’s tough new test” boomed The Times when lamenting that “hundreds more primary schools have slipped beneath the minimum of test results”.  The actual number is 767.   The Department for Education has threatened that it will impose on those primary schools that have fallen below the floor level “new leadership and governance from academy sponsors”.

And what is the floor level? Well, not only have the goalposts moved on this but also narrowed.  This year, at least 60% of pupils in a school were required to attain level 4 and above in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.  Last year, 60% were expected to attain level 4 and above in English (per se) and mathematics.  At the time, a pupil may have attained level 5 in reading but only level 3 in writing – averaging out to level 4. She/he would have been deemed to have met the target required.  Not so this year.

As a consequence, in 2011/12, 521 primary schools were below this threshold, having improved on the picture in 2010/11 when 1,310 failed to do so.  Were the same benchmarks used in 2011/12 as have been deployed this year, 834 would have failed. The press would benefit from reflecting that it depends on one’s perspective when making a judgement about whether the nation’s primary pupils are improving or “going down the pan”.

The actual results were as follows.

%age  achieving level 4 and above in reading, writing and maths %age achieving level 4B and above in reading, writing and maths %age making expected progress






England – all schools







England – state funded schools only







A DfE spokesman told The Times: “The floor standards we introduced were tougher and performance is improving.  Heads, teachers and pupils deserve credit for meeting the challenge head on.”  Then he added the “killer” remark.  “Schools with a long history of underperformance and who are not stepping up to the mark will be taken over by an academy sponsor.   The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils the best chance of a first-class education.”

There is only one little problem with what the DfE is planning to do.  Several sponsored academies have also fallen below the floor level.   What plans is the government hatching to have these academies also taken over and who will do the job?

UK Students’ progress in the Programme for International Student Assessments [PISA] frozen

1 Jan

(1)     What is PISA?

In December 2013, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA’s) fifth survey based on a battery of tests carried out in 2012.   PISA assesses the competencies of a cross-section of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, science and problem-solving.  The focus this time was on mathematics.

PISA charts the extent to which 15-year-old students have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. The assessment in the four areas does not just ascertain whether students can reproduce what they have learned but also examines how well they can extrapolate from what they have learned and apply that knowledge in unfamiliar settings, both, in and outside school. This approach reflects the fact that modern societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

Paper-based tests were used each lasting two hours. In a range of countries and economies, an additional 40 minutes were devoted to the computer-based assessment of mathematics, reading and problem solving.

Test items were a mixture of questions requiring students to construct their own responses and multiple-choice items. The items were organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. Altogether, 390 minutes of test items were covered, with different students tackling variously combined problems.

Students answered a background questionnaire, which took 30 minutes to complete, that sought information about themselves, their homes and their schools and learning experiences. Continue reading

Assessment and Accountability

30 Aug

It is ironic that while the government proposes reducing red tape in one part of its operations, it increases it in another, i.e. assessment and accountability.  On 17 July 2013, the Department for Education launched a consultation on its proposals to changes it wishes to make to primary assessment and accountability with the objective of ensuring that pupils are “secondary ready” and to raise standards.  It intends to set a new floor standard target from 2016 to ensure that at least 85% of pupils at primary level are ready for secondary school.  It is silent about what will happen to the remaining 15%.

As the DfE is abolishing national curriculum levels, the present requirement for 85% of pupils to attain level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics will no longer apply.  The Standards and Testing Agency is being charged to develop new national curriculum tests and a school will have to ensure that at least 85% of pupils meet the expected level of attainment in these tests.  The tests will also have a value-added progress measure.   This will mean that a school will have to meet the floor target for both, pupil attainment and progress.

Each 11-year-old (except those with profound special needs) will be compared to her/his peers nationally and placed in 10% bands (deciles). This will be reported to the parents of the child.

Responses to the consultation document, which can be accessed here, are invited by 11 October 2013.

Assessment of pupils’ achievements and progress grows in complexity

27 Aug

I           School developments

At an institutional (meta) level, it is a self-evident truth that information on pupils’ progress and achievement is essential when embarking on an exercise to improve the quality of educational provision at a school.  Teachers use performance data  (and there is lots about) to set challenging targets as well as contribute to future planning so that they encourage pupils to exploit as fully as possible their potential.

School governors have three sources of data:

i.            RAISEonline (see here and here) –  a mass of information issued by Ofsted and the DfE in the second half of the autumn term – which analyses the results and progress of the pupils over the last few years setting the data out in a national context.

ii.            The Family Fischer Trust (FFT) analysis (see here), which sets out how well the pupils at the school are currently doing and what they should be attaining at the end of the key stages.

iii.            Ofsted dashboard (see here), where governors can access a summary of the data that are presented in RAISEonline.

A health warning about Ofsted’s dashboard at this point is apposite.  The website is a summary of end-of-key-stage results and does not provide detailed information about the progress that pupils are making year-on-year, something that inspectors scrutinise when they visit schools.  For this, governors rely on their headteachers to provide information so that it can be clinically scrutinised. Continue reading