Michael Tidd is Deputy Headteacher of a primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire, having previously taught in middle and primary schools in West Sussex. We asked him for his thoughts on summative assessment in the new curriculum. Here’s what he had to say.
You don’t need a test to supplant teacher assessment, but it certainly helps to support it!
The chances are, any school you go into across the country this academic year, you’ll likely find different things going on with regard to assessment. In some schools, National Curriculum levels are a distant memory; in others, you’d never know that they were meant to be going. But probably for the vast majority of schools, teachers are finding their way from one system to another in an attempt to ensure that nobody slips through the cracks.
But the cracks can feel like a chasm at the moment. If your school is one of the many running two systems in parallel, with a view to removing levels in time for September, then the coming months probably feel quite daunting. None of this is helped by the lack of clear information from the Department for Education. We know that end-of-key-stage tests will underpin many judgements, but we still don’t know quite what level the thresholds will be set at. We know that teacher assessment will remain important, but we saw the Performance Descriptors consultation rounded upon by all sectors. In fact, all we do know for certain is how little we know for certain.
As we approach the end of the year, therefore, many schools will be looking to make combined judgements, summarising this year’s achievements using levels, and trying to set a benchmark starting point for future judgements in the brave new world of life after levels.
I’ve long argued that teachers already have the vast majority of the professional and pedagogical knowledge they need to achieve this work. Strip away the numbers and letters of levels, and the reality is that most teachers can explain what a child can do, and where they need to go next. They can also judge reasonably well whether children are meeting the expectations for their age range. Most new systems will simply formalise that knowledge into some system of codes again. So we ought not to fear too much the path ahead.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Even the most confident and experienced of teachers will welcome some support in making the judgements needed, not least because of the significant changes to the statutory curriculum. Knowing what is expected of a child at the end of Year 5 has changed significantly this year, and that makes the judgements harder to call.
Some teachers have an aversion to tests; it’s an aversion I sometimes share. When children are tested on material from standardised papers halfway through the year, often all we learn is that some children haven’t learned what they haven’t yet been taught. But the new curriculum is so clearly specified for each year group that that problem is less pronounced now at the end of the year.
We’ll be using the Rising Stars Optional Tests for Key Stage 2 to help us to make those judgements. We don’t need a test to supplant our teacher assessment, but it certainly helps to support it. The questions are linked to the curriculum and expectations and so can help to give us guidance on how well children are progressing towards end-of-key-stage expectations. They’ll also help us to identify specific areas that need more focus in the coming year. And perhaps most importantly, they’ll help to provide a common baseline for all our children as we move into a new system from September.