Baseline assessment – 5 things I know

The government are introducing approved providers of Reception baseline assessments. From their own webpage announcement it sounds a little confusing. With this in mind I have been scratching the surface of baseline assessment and have learnt five things.

Pupil taking test

1: They are relatively cheap…for a reason
I have read websites, downloaded catalogues and even telephoned the companies in a search for prices. Most companies already have a price structure in place. By the usual standards of pricing educational products these are cheap but they are cheap for a reason.
One is 85 pounds per school plus 3 per pupil. Another, 80 pounds per school plus 3 something per pupil. Another 220 pounds per school per year. Another 4.95 pounds per pupil. All fairly cheap but what do you get for your money?
One gives you some tick sheets and a guide advising teacher on how to use their own judgement to complete the sheets. Another gives an online test that should last 20 minutes and is completed independently…by a five year old! Another requires two tablets, one for the pupil and one for the teacher. I’m certain pupils with little exposure to the tablet will suffer. Another has a testimonial that confirms that the children enjoyed it because there were animations between the questions!

2: They don’t provide meaningful information
I had a great telephone conversation with the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). I asked what I saw at the end of the assessment. The answer was I would receive a detailed report indicating the percentage probability of pupils receiving a L4 or above at the end of Y6. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. From 2016 onwards there are no levels but this test will tell me the probability of these Reception children achieving an L4 at the end of their Year 6 in 2022! Well, I’m no mathematician but I can confirm the likelihood of this is precisely zero!

3: The selection of companies makes no sense and I suspect cronyism
One company I spoke to today have not yet completed the trial of their tests. They are in the process of trialling their test with 1000 pupils. Quite apart from the fact that this feels like a fairly small sample size and it is impossible to forward project what those students will achieve, they haven’t actually trialled the product. Is the CEO a close personal friend of Mrs. Morgan? I think we should be told. They have a multi-million pound public money contract on the basis of an assessment tool that doesn’t exist and hasn’t completed a trial!

4: The different tests are so different as to be incomparable and therefore can’t be used to compare school performance
When should the test be completed? Start of Reception, end of Reception, when a child has settled in to Reception! The answer changes dependent on which provider you speak to. They test reading, they are computer tests, they are teacher evaluations they are…
The differences are so vast and numerous as to completely negate any comparison. Will schools selecting the most difficult test be able to show the greatest progress? I suspect some game playing could take place here.

5: They don’t fit my school…or I suspect many others
My school is a British school in Spain. Most children begin school with no English. At the end of Reception results are below the average in the United Kingdom but many children have only had one or two years of exposure to English. By the end of KS1 pupils attain broadly in line with UK expectations. By the end of KS2 they far surpass the UK expectations. A large number of L5 and a growing number of L6 pupils who when they left Reception would have come out with a low baseline assessment. A low baseline assessment that on some of these systems would have been reported as a low probability of attaining a Level 4 or above. In other words, the output from the test would label the child and provide a low expectation throughout their school career.

And for these reasons, the baseline assessments as they stand are of little value and will fail to improve learning and pupil outcomes. Surely public money assigned to education should only be used on projects that improve learning and pupil outcomes and therefore these assessments look like a misappropriation of public funds.

To read another opinion on these baseline assessment tools visit Sue Cowley’s fascinating blog article – And if you tolerate this…

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