Clarity for parents, but confusion for schools? by Sarah-Anne Fernandes, Educational Consultant on the Rising Stars Assessment Mathematics Progress Tests

As schools grapple with the roll out of the new 2014 mathematics programmes of study for all year groups in the primary phase (except Years 2 and 6, which are exempt until September 2015), another major consideration for teachers is how mathematics will be assessed.

For teachers, arguably one of the most overwhelming challenges facing schools is the removal of levels to describe how a child is performing in mathematics across Years 1 to 6. The government’s biggest motivation for removing levels is based on parents not being able to understand level descriptors clearly and thus not knowing precisely how their child is performing in comparison to age-related expectations and also in relation to their peers. In response to this, the government will establish a standardised score scale system at the end of Key Stage 2 to help parents gain a better understanding of their child’s attainment.

The finer details of what this will actually look like are yet to be determined, but they are expected to be published by the Standards and Testing Agency in line with the new 2016 assessments. What we do know is that this standardised average scale score will be used to decipher if a pupil has met the ‘secondary readiness standard’ and will be one of the key measures that will be made available in the performance tables.

Apart from setting this scaled score at the end of Key Stage 2, the government will not be providing any further guidance or prescription as to how schools should track and assess pupils’ progress across the primary phase.

Challenges that schools will likely face

Some schools will see the removal of levels as an exciting opportunity to develop their own assessment tracking framework autonomously, but others will be daunted at this prospect and be worried about the inconsistencies this may pose. Some legitimate questions of concern might be: Will the assessment tracking framework established in the school be rigorous and robust enough to fit the new national expectations? Will it be in line with other schools in my local area but also consistent with schools nationally? Without a universal tracking framework and assessment language, this will not only prove challenging for schools and pupils with high mobility, but also for teachers who move to another school.

To counter some of these key issues, the government is providing funding to several schools (winners of the DfE Assessment Innovation Fund), who will turn their new school assessment models into easy-to-use packages for other schools to use, in place of the level system. These packages will soon become available for schools to download for free, so it may be worth waiting to see whether they are suitable for your school before diving in to designing an entire new school assessment approach to mathematics in isolation.

What else is new?

Firstly, the government recently published draft test frameworks for the new Key Stage 1 and 2 National Curriculum 2016 tests. The framework confirms that end of key stage statutory mathematics tests will still be completed by all eligible children who are registered at maintained schools, special schools or academies. At key stage 1, pupils will take 2 papers:  Paper 1 on arithmetic and Paper 2 on fluency, solving problems, reasoning. At key stage 2 pupils will take 3 papers: Paper 1 on arithmetic and Papers 2 and 3 on fluency, solving problems, reasoning.

Secondly, the government clearly states that ‘by the end of each key stage, pupils are expected to know, apply and understand the matters, skills and processes specified in the relevant programme of study’.

Bearing these two key points in mind, it is important to remember that the effective principles of assessment remain the same despite levels being removed. In fact, many systems already established in schools to assess mathematics will still be fit for purpose. As has always been the case, mathematics assessment will consist of ongoing formative assessment, periodic assessment and summative assessment.

Other key considerations regarding the new mathematics programme of study

In addition to the above, there are other important considerations:

  1. In order to be effective at assessing the new mathematics programme of study formatively, teachers need to be confident at understanding the statements within the relevant year group / key stage that they are teaching. Some teachers have found some of the language to be ambiguous and thus it is essential that professional conversations take place to unpick a universal understanding of the key mathematics terminology being used.
  2. The mathematics programme of study clearly sets out the expectations for each year group. Therefore, teachers could possibly use this as ongoing criteria to formatively assess how well pupils are performing. For example, one idea is of using ‘developing, meeting, exceeding’ or ‘exploring, achieving, exceeding’ to monitor progress within each year group’s programme of study standard. This approach is used by Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire, one of the schools awarded the Assessment Innovation Fund to develop their assessment model. Of course, it is important that teachers are consistent in their approach and that the same model be adopted across the whole school. This poses a number of questions about the evidence expected from a pupil to achieve an objective. For example, must it be in a problem-solving context? Does it need to be demonstrated more than once? What if a pupil has achieved it several times in class but not in a test?
  3. If progress tests are used periodically to assess how well pupils are performing in maths, then evidence from these tests should be used purposefully. For example, do pupils and parents know how well they have done? Can pupils use the tests to recognise their strengths, but also identify areas for development? Are areas of weakness identified used effectively to inform future planning and teaching?
  4. Old-style SATs questions can still be used within plenary or maths guided group sessions to assess effectively how well pupils are achieving. However, be mindful that because expectations have been raised in the new mathematics programmes of study, what mayhave previously been applicable to Year 6 might now be used to assess Year 5 or even Year 4!
  5. Remember that problem solving, reasoning and communicating are all still integral to mathematics teaching and learning. Speaking and listening activities – for example, ‘Always, sometimes, never true’ – are great informal assessment opportunities to ascertain how well a pupil understands a particular objective.

Last but not least, you are not alone!  Contact local schools and networks to share, practice and gain ideas.

Sarah-Anne Fernandes is a leading Primary Mathematics Teaching Consultant and the founder of SolveMaths. She has a proven track record of raising standards in both successful schools and schools in challenging circumstances. She is an outstanding practitioner who has been working in the profession for over a decade and has been instrumental in raising mathematics standards. 

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