2016 Teacher Assessment Performance Descriptors for Reading and Writing

James Clements 2

Well, the long wait is over. The DfE have finally released the new performance descriptors that will form the basis for teacher assessment in 2016. You can find KS1 here and KS2 here.

As you’d expect, these descriptors link closely to the new 2014 National Curriculum. They’ve been produced for schools to use as the criteria to assess Y2 and Y6 pupils against, alongside the national tests at the end of each key stage. They’re described as ‘interim frameworks for teacher assessment’ and are only to be used for 2015/2016 as ‘the Department for Education is evaluating options for future years’. Here are some things to bear in mind with the descriptors for English:


• At both KS1 and KS2 there are three performance descriptors- ‘working towards the national standard’, ‘working at the national standard’, and ‘working at greater depth within the national standard’.
• The descriptors are for describing where a child is working at the end of the key stage. They’re not designed to be applied to a single piece of writing: ‘Tom, this story you’ve written is ‘at the national standard’. It’s not quite ‘working at a greater depth yet’. The best feedback we can give children will help them to improve their writing, rather than just giving their work a label.
• Perhaps the most significant change from the previous system of NC levels is that these performance descriptors are not to be used in a best fit way. As the document says, ‘to demonstrate that pupils have met the standard, teachers will need to have evidence that a pupil demonstrates consistent attainment of all the statements within the standard.’
• The great majority of the objectives mention skills and knowledge linked to spelling, punctuation, grammar or handwriting. For ‘working at the national standard’ at KS1 these elements make up all twelve criteria, which should be demonstrated through writing a narrative. At KS2, it’s nine out of ten across a range of purposes and audiences. Obviously these elements are an important part of the new curriculum, but knowing when to use them for effect is also important and that’s something that needs to be taught.
• When assessing, the descriptors need to be applied to a range of different pieces of writing, rather than a single piece. It is very unlikely that a single piece of writing would have all of the features detailed in the performance descriptors.
• These performance descriptors aren’t designed to replace the National Curriculum. They shouldn’t be treated as the basis for teaching writing. They’re for a snap shot assessment, and schools should still teach the breadth of the curriculum.
• Like the 2014 National Curriculum, there is no mention of different genres or text types. Instead, at KS1 children need to show they can ‘write a narrative about their own and others’ experiences.’ At KS2, children need to be able to ‘write for a range of purposes and audiences (including writing a short story)’. There’s no list of text types to cover or genres like in the Literacy Strategy. The freedom to decide what children write belongs to schools and teachers.


• At KS1 there are three performance descriptors- ‘working towards the national standard’, ‘working at the national standard’, and ‘working at a greater depth within the national standard’. At KS2, there is just one- ‘working at the national standard’. Achievement above this level would be reflected in a child’s scaled score from the Y6 reading test.
• As with writing, the descriptors for reading closely reflect the content of the 2014 National Curriculum. At KS1, word reading asks that children read accurately and fluently, ‘sounding out unfamiliar words accurately and without undue hesitation’. It’s this fluency by the end of Year 2 that will probably be the major focus for schools. At KS2, where the performance descriptors take ability to word read as a given, the focus in on comprehension, with children being expected to read ‘whole novels’.
• The comprehension criteria are linked closely to the 2014 national Curriculum too. There are some reading skills mentioned in this section that are likely to be familiar to teachers: justifying their opinions, retrieving information, prediction, inference, and summarising.
• The performance descriptors aren’t designed to be used like APP. They’re really not a list to be printed out and then highlighted when a child achieves them three times. Rather, they’re some of the key elements of reading children need to be able to demonstrate they can do by the end of the key stage. This means they need to be assessed against in a much more holistic way, assessing two or more descriptors together, rather than each one forming the basis of a discrete learning objective. All of these aspects of reading are interlinked.
• It’s up to schools to decide how they assess children against these criteria. However, there are a number of references to children’s fluency in reading. It’s unlikely that these criteria can be assessed solely through a written test. Assessment is going to need children to read aloud to an adult and a vehicle for discussion about books, whether that’s with an adult or with peers in a whole-class English lesson or guided reading session. As the document says, ‘Teachers must base their teacher assessment judgement on a broad range of evidence from across the curriculum for each pupil.’

Finally, it’s important to remember that if you’ve spent time building an assessment system that works for your school and your pupils ready for life after levels, you don’t need to change it because of the new performance descriptors. As the introduction notes say:

This statutory interim framework is to be used only to make a teacher assessment judgement at the end of the key stage following the completion of the curriculum. It is not intended to be used to track progress throughout the key stage.

These are performance descriptors developed for teacher assessment at the end of a key stage, not a replacement for the old national curriculum levels.

Read James’ next post: 2016 Teacher Assessment Performance Descriptors for Mathematics and Science.

James Clements is a member of the Advisory Board for Oxford Owl, Oxford Primary’s online school improvement service. He has worked as a teacher and senior leader in an outstanding inner city primary school, as a Local Authority Lead Teacher, and was consulted on the New National Curriculum for English. James is now an English adviser and the creative director of Shakespeare and More, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes effective English teaching.
Follow James on Twitter @James_ShMore

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