Primary assessment – questions and numbers but no real answers

Our termly assessment time is here once again and conversation is around what, why and how we assess.

Well, most conversation is about the “how” because with the removal of levels and no new assessment tools to accompany the new curriculum things feel slightly disjointed. Should we use old QCA optional assessments dating back to 2003, teacher assessment, Ros Wilson writing grids, APP grids? Should the assessment output be a level or some other measure?

With these and more questions floating around I reread the government report ‘Primary Accountability and Assessment Consultation Response’ that was published in March 2014.

Here are the facts as they stand.

1: The first principle of assessment reads:
“ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching”.

2: 85%
The percentage of pupils expected to reach the new expected standard by the end of primary school. (Although this will be increased with time.)

3: 57%
The percentage of respondents who say that the principles proposed will not lead to an effective curriculum and assessment system. The largest complaint was that by removing a universal system it will become more difficult to make comparisons between schools. A further significant response was that without a consistent system parents and pupils moving between schools would be confused.

4: 82%
The percentage of respondents that said the government needed to provide additional support to schools with regard to assessment. Specific requests that featured included a request for examples of assessment, examples of good practice and training.

5: 70%
The percentage of respondents that felt that a scaled score would not provide useful information from national curriculum tests. The scaled score system is the one now in place from 2016 whereby an average child will be rewarded with 100. Above and below average pupils will be marked by their deviation from the 100 target. The cynics may well consider this to be leveling but by another name.

6: 24%
The percentage of respondents that felt that publishing end of Key Stage 1 assessment results was a beneficial exercise.

7: 15%
The percentage of respondents that felt schools should be allowed to choose from a range of commercially available assessments. This now is the system in place for the baseline assessment. Five different providers offer five different systems with five different outcomes.

But does any of the published documentation help in understanding “how” effective assessment can be implemented?

The answer unfortunately is “no”. In 2016 the end of Key Stage 2 assessment will be different but there are still a number of unanswered questions. Teachers will provide an assessment but in what form? If levels are discontinued and the tests output measures as a deviation from 100, what will teacher assessment look like. We are told it will be a confirmation or otherwise that children have met an end of key stage descriptor. I guess, “he made the mark” or “he didn’t make the mark”. That clearly doesn’t help in terms of tracking pupils if they are graded into only two groups.

The system of a database that we update termly with subdivided levels enables us to track progress. Even recording levels now though has been complicated. The criteria, especially in number work, has been raised. Consequently the old level descriptors don’t match the expectation for the end of year when put alongside the new curriculum. Can levels still be used or has pupil tracking been knocked completely off course until further assessment materials are produced?

I propose taking the old level system and making it match the new curriculum. If at the end of Year 6 we were expecting pupils to attain a secure level four (4b) then if they have achieved the required level within the expectations of the new curriculum then they have still attained a secure level four. That way, although the expected attainment has been raised, we can still compare performance across cohorts of pupils in much the same way as we have done in previous years.

Until there is a published alternative that can be used to track progress towards the new measures (careful, that 100 point score system isn’t levels!) then assessment is going to continue to pose problems.

What do you do in your school? Have you come up with an alternative to levels or are you still using levels? Are any of the previous level based assessment procedures (APP, QCA) still being used?

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