Changes to the National Tests and what you need to know – Key Stage 1

Thanks to Deputy Head Michael Tidd for researching and writing this article, which we hope will be a great time-saver for our readers!

From September, we will once again have all children in our primary schools working on a single National Curriculum. We’ll also be just months away from the first of the new style of National Curriculum Tests for Key Stages 1 and 2. Now the final frameworks and sample tests have been published, there are some minor changes. However, other changes are much more notable, so here is a quick reference guide to the new tests. We’ll start with Key Stage 1 in this first article but ensure you return to the Rising Stars blog for the Key Stage 2 instalment next week.

Key Stage 1

The big shift for all the tests at KS1 is the return of annually updated tests. Although teachers will still mark the tests internally, they will no longer have the choice of old papers to use; new tests will be produced each year, meaning unfamiliar content for every cohort. Of course, the tests also see the final removal of levels, with scores being given as a scaled score for each subject instead; 100 will represent ‘the expected standard’.

In maths, the first major change is the introduction of an arithmetic paper. The first paper will have 25 questions, each worth one mark, requiring use of discrete arithmetic skills ranging from knowledge of number bonds to simple fraction work. This paper will make up almost half of the total available marks, further emphasising the focus on number and calculations in the new curriculum. Continue reading →

Understanding Scaled Scores

The DfE has published information for headteachers, teachers, governors and local authorities about scaled scores and the national standard from 2016. You can read the full guidance on the DfE website here, and as this new method of reporting results can seem a lot to get your head around at first, we’ve summarised what we think are the key points below.

Why introduce a scaled score?

A new national curriculum brings the need for new national tests, which the STA will produce for Year 2 and Year 6 pupils to sit in May 2016. You can view information on the test frameworks and sample materials released by the DfE on 29th June here. These materials intend to give teachers a better understanding of the structure and content of the new tests.

In the new national curriculum, levels have been abolished. The government have said they took this decision partly in response to concerns about the validity and reliability of levels and sub-levels, but also because they were deemed a driver of ‘undue pace through the curriculum, which has led to gaps in pupils’ knowledge.’ The DfE are therefore changing how test performance is reported and from 2016 they will use scaled scores to report national test outcomes (a method used in numerous other countries).

So, what is a scaled score?

Using scaled scores enables test results to be reported consistently from one year to the next. Though national tests are designed to be as similar as possible every year in terms of demand, slight differences do occur. Scaled scores, however, maintain their meaning over time, so if two children achieve the same scaled score on two different tests, they will have demonstrated the same attainment. Continue reading →

How did you find the National Tests this year?

As this year’s National Test cycle draws to a close, we asked Y6 teacher and Upper KS2 Phase Leader Dave Witham from Plumcroft Primary School for his feedback on the difficulty and content of this round of tests.

Although Dave’s children reported tough questions in the level 6 GPS and Reading papers, on the whole, the impression was of a fair set of tests to accurately assess a child’s progress, strengths and weaknesses.

Dave’s feedback:

Level 6 (GPS, Maths and Reading)

Grammar Spelling and Punctuation

Proposed changes to the GPS paper (Plumcroft Primary took part in the trials!) didn’t materialise and the short answer paper was ‘more of the same’ from level 3-5. Spellings were very challenging and we’re still building a list of examples for the children. The writing element was very predictable and nothing to really challenge the children if they are a strong and solid level 5 writer.

Reading

The children struggled to get through the reading paper, although this was expected as it’s a tough ask in the amount of time given.

Maths

As usual, all the information was presented and ‘disguised’ to really sort out the truly gifted mathematicians; however again, a fair test.

Level 3-5 (GPS, Reading, Maths and Mental Maths) 

Grammar Spelling and Punctuation

The GPS paper threw up few challenges and the spellings covered were representative of suggested patterns. Continue reading →

Dylan Wiliam’s principles for designing an assessment system

Teach Primary recently shared an article on their website by Dylan Wiliam, a member of the Expert Panel selected to advise the Secretary of State on revisions to the national curriculum. Dylan believes there are lots of important questions all schools can ask themselves when developing their new assessment system in light of the removal of levels, but that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Dylan was actually a fan of the levels system, and believes that “had we stuck to reporting student achievement at the end of each key stage—which is still the only legal requirement—everything would have been fine”. However, when schools began reporting levels termly and even on individual pieces of work, and Ofsted starting asking students what level they were working at, he felt a system which was designed to be a ‘summary of the totality of achievement across a key stage’ was being inappropriately used. He says it was the fact that levels were getting in the way of children’s learning that he recommended they be abolished, and not because they were a bad idea.

Dylan explains: “It will be up to each school to decide how to determine whether children are learning what they need to be learning. Some schools are planning to continue with national curriculum levels for the time being. That’s fine. But it is important to realise there will be no straightforward way to carry levels forward from the current national curriculum to the new curriculum. Continue reading →

Ten key themes from Colin Watson’s Education Show presentation

Colin Watson is the Deputy Director of Assessment Policy and Development at the DfE. Unsurprisingly his presentation at the Education Show this morning was ‘standing room only’ as hundreds of teachers gathered to hear his update on assessment for Primary schools. We thought it would be useful to summarise some of the key themes for those of you who were unable to get to the NEC today.

  1. Levels are not in line with the freedom intended to come with the new curriculum and the accountability system did not allow for great work to be recognised, therefore levels are not to be used with the new curriculum.
  2. Formative assessment is vital in classrooms every day but it is the responsibility of schools and not something central government should be involved with.
  3. New national tests mean a new floor standard has been raised. 85% of children will be expected to achieve a scaled score of 100 by the end of primary school.
  4. A school will only fall below this floor if pupils make poor progress AND fewer than 85% achieve the expected standard in national KS2 tests.
  5. The scaled score is yet to be determined and can only be decided using real data from the first set of new tests.
  6. The new progress measure will be a ‘value-added’ measure rather than an ‘expected level of progress’ measure. Continue reading →

Michael Tidd tells us about his end-of-year assessment strategy

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. Continue reading →

The Depth vs. Breadth Challenge – Assessing Pupil Knowledge in the New Curriculum

At the BETT show this year, Rising Stars and Classroom Monitor joined forces to assemble a panel of experts to discuss the New Curriculum, Mastery and its implications on Assessment.

The debate was chaired by Chris Scarth, Commercial Director of Classroom Monitor and the panel was made up of:

Ed Walsh: Lead consultant for science at Cornwall Learning

Shareen Mayers: Primary English Adviser for Sutton Improvement and Support services

Ben Fuller: Joint Lead Assessment adviser at Herts for Learning Ltd,. Former primary school teacher and local authority adviser for assessment.

Tanya Parker: who has worked as a consultant at a number of different education technology companies including Classroom Monitor and was a primary teacher with responsibility for assessment and maths.

Some sizeable issues were dissected during the debate and our panel offered some really interesting and practical perspectives on how teachers can approach mastery and assessment in a world free from levels.

The first point of discussion was around the depth vs breadth debate. Chris Scarth questioned whether focusing on fewer things in greater depth was intrinsically linked to mastery.

Ben suggested that finding a balance between the two could be a more useful way of approaching mastery, commenting: I would say that in really good schools teachers always go for depth and breadth, helping students take knowledge and applying it in a range of different contexts.”

The conversation then moved on to question whether mastery could lead to repetitive teaching. However, Shareen offered a positive and practical approach that would avoid this pitfall, suggesting that teachers could approach one concept in a variety of ways. Continue reading →

Assessing the new National Curriculum for science

From 2016 statutory teacher assessments of science will continue for all pupils at the end of Key Stage 1. At the end of Key Stage 2 science tests will continue with a sample of schools and pupils. The tests will take place every other year starting in 2016.

In July the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published sample questions, mark schemes and commentaries for all the new National Curriculum tests that will be introduced from summer 2016, including samples for the new Key Stage 2 sampling test for science. These can all be downloaded from the DfE website. The final versions are due to be published in July 2015.

Features of the sample tests 

  • The format of having an extended question over two pages remains, but now the biology, chemistry and physics elements have been separated into different tests rather than being mixed within one paper (possibly in preparation for secondary school).
  • The questions relate directly to new the Programme of Study. They start with elements from the lower Key Stage 2 Programme of Study and progress to related elements from upper Key Stage 2.
  • There is more emphasis on ’knowledge and understanding’ than on the skills and processes found in ‘working scientifically’, whereas previous tests had more Sc1 questions.
  • The working scientifically questions are still set in the context of the other curriculum areas and are well integrated.
  • The level of difficulty is similar to the previous 2012 tests.

Continue reading →

Performance Descriptors – what they will mean for me and my school

Thank you to Michael Dillon, Head Teacher at Kew Riverside Primary School for this guest post

I recently attended our Local Authority’s (Richmond & Kingston) annual Assessment and Learning Conference, which is always well organised and extremely informative.  Throughout the day there were several excellent speakers and presentations, including South Farnham School[1], the Institute of Education and the assessment consultant and writer Shirley Clarke[2].

However, what was particularly interesting this year, was the presentation by the Standards & Teaching Agency of the draft Performance Descriptors for Key Stage 1 and 2 teacher assessment.  I know that all my colleagues found the information really useful, especially as it was coming directly from the STA.

As you are no doubt are aware these have recently been published and are open for consultation until 18th December 2014.  These will eventually become the new indicators by which performance will be measured for Y2 and Y6.

So what does this mean in practical terms for us in school?  Well, I will be spending the rest of the academic year reviewing our whole school assessment policy.

I know the Performance Descriptors are still in consultation, but we will start with using our next INSET day (January 2015) to read them in more detail and take the opportunity to review them against our curriculum, particularly for Y2 and Y6.  We will also discuss different options available to describe performance.  Finally, and to be honest, most importantly, we will begin to review our assessment culture, assessment principles and what is actually happening in the classroom (our procedures).  Our initial focus will be the quality of the marking in children’s books, including evidence of peer and self assessment. Continue reading →

Choosing what type of test works best

Tests are widely used in schools. They include teacher-created tests either written by teachers or perhaps created by selecting questions from a ready-made online bank of questions and also a wide range of tests available from commercial suppliers. There are different types of test available too and what works best depends on why the test is being used i.e. what information the teacher wants from the assessment.

Tests for day-to-day assessment

Teachers need regular information about how their pupils are doing so that they can change their teaching to ensure it is effective. This is also a key focus of Ofsted inspections with inspectors wanting to see evidence of how schools are using assessment to improve teaching and raise attainment and to monitor the progress of all children as well as that of specific groups. For this type of assessment tests linked to specific curriculum areas are useful as they enable teachers to concentrate on particular areas. This makes it easier to identify the strengths and weaknesses that children have and the progress they are making.

This type of test can be used summatively and formatively. Teachers can use such tests at the beginning of a unit of work to assess prior learning and during topics to see how children are progressing and to identify whether further work may be needed. The diagnostic information from the tests enables teachers to make appropriate interventions and provide support and challenge as soon as possible. These tests can also be used summatively e.g. at the end of a topic, term or year to gain data that can then be used for reporting. Continue reading →