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 →

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 →

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 →

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 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 →

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 →

Mathematics assessment and the new National Curriculum

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. Continue reading →

Statutory teacher assessment requirements from 2016

As well as stressing the importance of ongoing formative and summative teacher assessment, the DfE Reforming assessment and accountability for primary schools document also provides details of the statutory National Curriculum teacher assessments that will take place from summer 2016.

Key Stage 1

The subjects for which there will be statutory teachers assessment at Key Stage 1 are shown in the table below.

Subject Additional information
Reading TA informed by test scores
Writing TA informed by test score for GPS
Speaking and listening
Grammar, punctuation and spelling
Mathematics TA informed by test scores
Science

This is similar to current requirements but with the addition of teacher assessment of grammar, punctuation and spelling. Instead of a National Curriculum level, teachers will report teacher assessment results by deciding which new performance descriptor each pupil best meets.

Continue reading →

The Key Stage 1 National Tests from 2016

The frameworks are written primarily for test writers. They set out what will and will not be assessed by the statutory national tests, how each element will be assessed, the proposed structure of each test and what standard pupils will be expected to achieve. They are not designed to be used to guide teaching and learning or to inform statutory teacher assessment.

The draft frameworks for the new national assessments that will be introduced in summer 2016 are now available and can be downloaded from the gov.uk website

At Key Stage 1 there are frameworks for each of reading; grammar, punctuation and spelling; and mathematics. The key sections of each document are:

  • the nature of the test (particularly the test format)
  • the content to be assessed
  • the ‘cognitive domain’, in other words the thinking skills and intellectual processes to be assessed (e.g. problem solving, reasoning)
  • the test specification, including the performance descriptor.

It is very important to note that the tests do not cover all the content or skills of the National Curriculum for English and mathematics. The tests focus on what can be assessed in a paper-based, written test. The document states the areas of the curriculum that are outside the scope of the national tests and that need to be assessed by teacher assessment.

Each of the framework documents includes a performance descriptor that describes the ‘typical characteristics of children whose performance in the tests is at the threshold of the expected standard.’ These characteristics are intended as a general guide rather than as a prescriptive list and will be used by a panel of teachers to set the standards on the new tests in summer 2016. Continue reading →

The new National Curriculum: key dates for assessment

The new National Curriculum is now being taught and schools are working to establish assessment systems that work in a world without levels. The Department for Education will be releasing more information over the coming year and some aspects of the new arrangements will not take place for some time. The table below is a summary of the key dates for the next few years to help primary schools see what is happening and when.

Continue reading →