Five things you need to know about changes to primary assessment

Feb 21, 2016 | In the News

An overview of upcoming changes being made to primary assessment by the Department for Education:

1. Setting a higher bar

DfE want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths. Previous expectations for children were too low. The new assessment and accountability system – which marks the end of key stages – has been designed to reflect a new, more challenging national curriculum which sets high expectations for every child, setting them up to succeed at secondary school and beyond. These changes were first announced in March 2014, and since then the Department for Education and STA have provided schools with further information on the changes to help them adapt their approach and assessment arrangements – this includes sample questions published in summer 2014, and complete sample tests published in summer 2015.

Dfe should not downplay the scale of these changes because they have been vital to raising standards – but the content or structure of the tests was made very clear last year and will not be changed again, so to suggest the system is in chaos, or to threaten to boycott these tests, is to undermine these important reforms.

2. Preparing for the new tests

The best way to prepare pupils remains to focus on teaching the new national curriculum.

In July 2015, DfE published guidance on scaled scores which made clear that we would not be setting standards on the new tests until pupils have taken them and the tests have been marked. As this is the first cohort to have reached the end of the key stage it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to set the new scale using data from pupils that had studied the old national curriculum.

However, this does not – and should not – affect schools’ ability to prepare for the test, because each child should be pushed to reach their full potential regardless of where the final standard is set.

3. Getting it right

The frameworks for teacher assessment this year are interim – but it’s disingenuous to suggest this is because DfE don’t know what they are doing.

Significant reforms such as these take time to get right and for the system to catch up. DfE were clear in our response to the consultation on teacher assessment arrangements in February 2015 that we wanted to listen to the views of teachers in order to redesign the arrangements which meant they were published later than we had initially hoped. It is for that reason that the teacher assessment frameworks for this year are only an interim solution and we will be evaluating options for future years.

However, DfErecognise the unique situation this year with teachers working with a new framework, to new standards. That’s why we’ve listened to the sector, and, following constructive dialogue with NAHT, DfE have agreed to move back the date for submitting teacher assessment judgements in line with last year.

4. Teachers won’t have to fill out 6,120 check boxes

If anything is likely to cause chaos, it is unhelpful scaremongering and false claims from certain corners. For example, in a recent article in TES, Mary Bousted suggested teachers would have to undertake over 6,120 assessments for a class of 30 pupils.

The Standards and Testing Agency provides exemplification materials as a guide for the types of evidence that teachers may submit to support teacher assessment judgements at the end of key stage 1 and 2. The exemplification materials are intended to help schools interpret the interim frameworks if required – in fact the tick sheets were included in response to requests from teacher panels to help them cross-reference the materials with the particular ‘pupil can’ statements.

However, DfE trust teachers, and if they are confident in making judgements against the simple ‘pupil can’ statements in the interim frameworks, they may not need to refer to the exemplification materials. The exemplification should not be seen as a restrictive template on how these judgements should be made and certainly does not require teachers to make checklists of several hundred judgements as has been wrongly claimed.

It should go without saying that good teaching is the key to raising standards, not box-ticking.

5. A new floor standard which sets high expectations for all

DfE want to see every child reach their full potential, no matter what their starting point. As we announced in March 2014, from 2016 primary schools will be held to account for both the progress and attainment of their pupils. This is to allow better recognition of schools doing well with a challenging intake, and to challenge those with a high-attaining intake that are not doing enough to stretch the most able.

These reforms include:

  • new headline attainment and progress performance measures
  • a new floor standard

Schools will be above the floor standard if 65% or more of their pupils reach the expected standard in all of reading, writing and maths or if the school has a sufficient progress score in all 3 subjects. As this is the first year of new accountability measures and new assessments, DfE will wait until tests have been taken to set minimum expectations for a school’s progress scores.

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