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 →

The new National Curriculum tests: What can we infer from the sample questions?

In July the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published sample questions, mark schemes and commentaries for the new National Curriculum tests that will be introduced from summer 2016. There are separate samples for English reading, English grammar, punctuation and spelling and mathematics for each of Key Stages 1 and 2 and also 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.

These exemplars do not give a complete picture of the new tests. For example, they do not

  • include full sample tests (there is a selection of questions instead)
  • reflect the curriculum coverage of the final tests
  • reflect the ratio of question types that will be in the final tests
  • reflect the range of question difficulties that will be in the final tests.

What the exemplars do provide however is an indication of how the new elements of the curriculum will be tested. Note that STA do not recommend that the sample questions be used for assessment purposes as they have not been fully trialled – they are for guidance only.

The sample questions focus on the new areas of the curriculum and there are repeated references to ‘increased demand’. In general, the level of difficulty of questions is higher overall and pupils need to do more to achieve one mark than they do currently.

The language around what each question is testing is a useful introduction for teachers to some of the jargon being used for analysis of Depth of understanding, Computational complexity etc. Such analysis means the test writers will have to be more careful about the overall difficulty level and think very carefully about what the pupil has to do in the process of answering each question. This should lead to improved year on year consistency. Continue reading →

Assessment approaches developed by teaching schools

In October 2013 the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) invited teaching schools to bid for small-scale research funding to investigate assessment of the new National Curriculum now that there are no longer levels. A report summarising this research, Beyond Levels: alternative approaches developed by teaching schools, is now available.

34 teaching school alliances took part in the research, which involved 238 schools including 153 primary schools. Three priorities emerged from the research:

  • development of assessment tools to support individual progress
  • development of assessment tools to capture and record progress
  • use of technology to track attainment and progress.

Further details of each of these are provided below. Continue reading →

Assessment and Ofsted inspections from September 2014

In July, Ofsted published an updated version of the School Inspection Handbook. This handbook details the evidence that inspectors should be looking for when carrying out Section 5 inspections.

 

Of particular interest is the new guidance to support inspectors in making judgements during the phased removal of National Curriculum levels. Assessment is mentioned in the ‘Leadership and management’ and ‘Quality of teaching’ sections of the handbook, but it is a key focus of the ‘Achievement of pupils at the school’ section. Below is a summary of the key points and how use of the Rising Stars Assessment Progress Tests will help schools to provide the evidence that inspectors will be seeking.

Download the printable PDF version Continue reading →

Changes to Ofsted inspections from September 14

Ofsted letter to Headteachers

Ofsted has recently written to Headteachers alerting them to changes to inspections that will start from 1 September 2014. This follows publication of the Note for inspectors: use of assessment information in 2014/15.

The key details of relevance to primary schools are:

  • the introduction of a separate graded judgement for the early years;
  • an increased focus on how well school leaders tackle low-level disruption and ensure that pupils’ conduct and attitudes to learning are good;
  • greater attention on whether or not a school’s curriculum is broad and balanced and promotes tolerance of and respect for people of other faiths, cultures and lifestyles;
  • details as to what evidence Ofsted will use given the demise of National Curriculum levels.

The letter also outlines the criteria that will be used for unannounced inspections for 2014/15.

Ofsted and assessment information

The note for inspectors provides details of the assessment evidence that Ofsted will be using in 2014/15 to judge learning and progress recognising that there will be a mixed economy for the next year as schools start to migrate to the new curriculum and assessment arrangements. Specifically:

  • Pupils in Years 2 and 6 will still be taught the old National Curriculum so their attainment and progress will continue to be tracked and measured using levels.
  • For other pupils, apart from those in Year 1, there will be historic data expressed in National Curriculum levels as well as assessment data collected against the new Programmes of Study.
  • Additionally, some schools may choose to move away from the use of levels immediately, others may do so more gradually. In 2014-15 inspectors will recognise that schools are likely to be still developing their preferred new assessment system. Continue reading →

Life at the crossroads

By Ed Walsh,  Lead Consultant for Science with Cornwall Learning and Science Consultant to Rising Stars on the New Curriculum Assessment Science Progress Tests

In some ways being the coordinator of a core subject is like choosing to live by a crossroads – lively, things arriving from all directions, careful management required and highly variable. Teachers need guidance, pupils need inspiration, the SLT needs stories of success and parents and carers want children to succeed.

Continue reading →

Assessment Beyond 2014 – a headteacher’s view

by Michael Dillon, Headteacher of Kew Riverside Primary School in Richmond, London.

On the face of it, the government’s rationale for change [i] is difficult to disagree with:

  • ongoing, teacher-led assessment is a crucial part of effective teaching,
  • schools should have the freedom to decide how to teach their curriculum and how to track the progress that pupils make,
  • both summative teacher assessment and external testing are important,
  • accountability is key to a successful school system, and therefore must be fair and transparent,
  • measures of both progress and attainment are important for understanding school performance, and,
  • a broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.

As a Headteacher I would always support high expectations, setting targets, being accountable, having transparency and improving communication with parents. And it goes without saying that I always want to improve teaching and learning – for both teachers and children.

In my opinion, simply removing the National Curriculum levels will not necessarily achieve the desired goals listed above. There is a real danger that we will simply be replacing one arbitrary measure of achievement with another. And more importantly, unless we work together as a profession, valuable resources (time and money) will be wasted on inventing hundreds of different assessment frameworks that will not be valid or reliable.

The main issues I see at the moment are the sheer pace of change and the lack of information and advice available. The idea that Headteachers can introduce a new ‘reliable and valid’ assessment framework that will achieve the above outcomes, ready for September, from a practical perspective, is unachievable. Continue reading →