Gearing up for the primary school testing season, 2016 – Key Stage 2

Stephen Anwyll

With Easter fast approaching, teachers with Y6 classes will be increasingly conscious of the National Curriculum tests which their pupils will be taking in the summer term. Parents will also be anxious to know what’s changed under the revised curriculum and how they can best support their children over the statutory assessment period. Although the test arrangements are not radically different from last year, there are changes which will make the experience a little different for this year’s Y6s, the first to be formally assessed under the 2014 National Curriculum. Here’s what you need to know so that you can help to ensure that the experience is as stress-free as possible for you, for your pupils and for their parents.

At first glance, the basic assessment arrangements for statutory assessment at the end of Key Stage 2 don’t appear to have changed significantly from what’s been in place in recent years; pupils will continue to sit tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) and mathematics and teacher assessment judgements will be reported in reading, writing, mathematics and science. As in the last few years, teacher assessments in writing will be subject to external moderation in 25% of schools. However, look a little deeper and you’ll realise that changes to the nature of the tests, to the way they will be reported, to the approach to teacher assessment and to how outcomes will be used for school accountability measures will all have implications for how you prepare for, implement and follow up this year’s arrangements.

The most obvious change to the tests themselves is that there is only one set – one for reading, three for mathematics and two for GPS (a spelling test and a test of grammar and punctuation). Because levels have disappeared, so have separate tests covering levels 3 to 5 and level 6. Sample tests were made available last summer and you’ll almost certainly have used these materials to familiarise pupils with their format and style. The new tests are based on a higher expected standard and are designed to cover a broader ability range; one consequence is that, for lower ability pupils, they will contain some relatively challenging questions and it will be important to encourage these pupils to try to answer all the questions they can and not to feel daunted. The demise of the higher-tier level 6 test removes the need for separate teaching groups to prepare for them and will save future cohorts from the disappointment of failure; between 2012 and 2015, well over a quarter of a million pupils were entered for the level 6 reading test with a failure rate of more than 99.5%!

Another significant innovation in this year’s tests is the introduction of ‘scaled scores’ to report outcomes. Because this is the first statutory use of these new tests, the threshold mark for the national ‘expected standard’ can only be set after the tests have been taken, in June. Once it’s been determined, this raw mark will be converted to 100 and all other marks will be translated onto a scale on either side of 100. So instead of getting a ‘level’, representing performance within a range of marks, pupils will have a more precise scaled score. When schools access their results on 5 July, they will see a raw score and a scaled score for each pupil and it’s the scaled scores which will be published in school performance tables and used in school accountability measures. It’s really important to recognise that this change does not mean the tests are themselves more accurate – scaled scores are just a different way of reporting the outcomes. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the difference between scores of 99 and 100 is unlikely to be statistically significant, even though it suggests that one pupil is below the expected standard and one has reached it.

The DfE recently published details of how progress will be calculated between the end of Key Stages 1 and 2 now that the ‘two levels of progress’ measure has become obsolete. Essentially, a calculation will be made for each pupil which compares their KS2 test result with all other pupils in the country who had the same average attainment four years earlier at the end of Key Stage 1. If they have scored one mark higher than the average for their peers, they will have a progress score of +1 and if they score two marks lower, their score will be -2; the school’s progress score will be the average score of all its Y6 cohort. Inevitably, this will have a big impact on the way schools check pupils’ marked scripts. In the past, school would only have bothered to scrutinise the marking of scripts for pupils who were just below a level threshold. Under the new accountability arrangements, in the reading and mathematics tests, every mark counts for every pupil and will impact on the school’s progress score. Y6 teachers and senior leaders may well want to block out some time in their diaries to carefully study this year’s mark schemes, due to be published on 23 May, and then again between 5 July, when results will be published and marked scripts made accessible, and 15 July, the deadline for submitting marking reviews. 2015 saw a sharp rise in the number of marking reviews submitted – more than three times as many as in 2014 for the reading test – and it looks likely that 2016 will see an even bigger increase.

For teacher assessment, it’s also a mix of ‘as before’ and ‘all change’. As in recent years, the teacher assessment of writing will be made in relation to a number of defined standards and will be subject to external moderation. For other subjects (reading, mathematics and science), in an assessment system increasingly driven by school accountability, teacher assessment is reduced to a straightforward yes/no judgement on whether pupils meet the criteria for the newly defined ‘expected standard’. The reason given for this different approach is that teacher assessment in these three subjects will not figure in the calculation of school accountability measures; in reading and mathematics it will be the test scores which count and science outcomes play no part in accountability.

The major change for teacher assessment is the move from a ‘best fit’ model (which level description best captures the pupil’s overall performance in the subject) to a ‘mastery’ model (pupils must demonstrate consistent attainment of all the statements in the standard and – where there’s more than one – in all previous standards). This could create some tricky reporting scenarios, particularly where pupils perform well on the reading or mathematics tests and achieve a scaled score above 100 but, given their overall classroom performance, they don’t meet all the teacher assessment criteria and so have to be reported as ‘not at the expected standard’. Make sure that you have a good look at the national exemplification material that has been published for English and mathematics and then allow enough time after the tests in May and June to finalise your judgements and carry out some internal moderation – and with Y6 teachers in other schools if possible – before submitting them by 30th June (the deadline was originally set as 27th May but this has recently been changed by Ministers). There are additional ‘pre-Key Stage’ standards available for use with the small minority of pupils who are performing below the standard of the reading and mathematics tests or, in the case of writing, don’t meet the criteria for ‘working towards the expected standard’.

Finally, if you haven’t already started to hold discussions with the secondary schools to which most of your pupils will transfer, make sure you do. It’s crucial that Y7 teachers appreciate that new standards have been applied, can interpret scaled scores thoughtfully and have information which allows them to build on pupils’ attainment and sustain their progress during Key Stage 3.

Above all, keep calm and be patient. Remember that this is the first use of a new set of tests and teacher assessment standards with pupils who have only been following the revised curriculum for two years. It will take time for everyone – pupils, teachers, moderators, school inspectors, governors and parents – to become familiar and relatively comfortable with them.


Stephen Anwyll has almost 40 years’ experience in education, starting as a primary teacher and then moving into advisory work. He was appointed as a regional director for the National Literacy Strategy and later became its national director. He worked on improving teacher assessment with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for several years and at the end of 2010 was appointed Head of the National Assessment team at Ofqual, leading the work on reviewing statutory assessment arrangements. He now works as an independent consultant.

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