How was it for you? Reflecting on the primary assessment season 2016

Stephen Anwyll

It’s almost over. Almost exactly four years after Michael Gove formally announced the abolition of National Curriculum level descriptions, the first use of the new statutory assessment arrangements is nearing completion. Children in Years 2 and 6 have done their statutory tests, external moderation visits to selected schools are in full swing and teacher assessment judgements are being finalised for submission by the end of June.

In Reception, teachers are completing the EYFS Profile for the last time on a statutory basis.

At Key Stage 1, the new test thresholds have been set and Y2 teachers will have now converted their pupils’ raw marks to scaled scores, between 85 and 115, using the conversion tables that were made available on 3rd June.

At Key Stage 2, schools are poised to access and review their pupils’ test results and marked scripts on 5th July. It just remains for annual reports to be completed in between sports days, school trips, end-of year parties and school leavers’ discos and then another school year is over. We can all catch our breath over the summer and wait for the national results to be published so that we can put our results in context.

So, after all the delays, uncertainty and anxiety, the revisions, clarifications and blunders in the run-up to the new assessment arrangements, what’s the overall feeling in schools? Well, the tests were certainly harder. That was to be expected given that they’re designed around higher, nationally expected standards and cover a wider range of attainment. For less confident readers and mathematicians in Y2 and Y6, the tests will certainly have felt like a more daunting experience because they included questions which those pupils would not have encountered in previous years.

It’s the new approach to teacher assessment that has probably caused schools much more uncertainty. Introducing and applying new teacher assessment standards across more than 16,000 schools is inevitably a time-consuming business. Teachers and moderators have to become familiar with new sets of criteria and, when used in earnest for the first time, there will always be questions about the interpretation of particular statements. Typically, it takes about three years for judgements to become consistent, but there’s the added factor that many Local Authorities, which still hold the responsibility for ensuring accurate judgements and organising external moderation in local schools, are struggling to fulfil their duties in the light of severely reduced budgets.

And of course it’s not just a case of new criteria; the whole approach has moved from a ‘best fit’ to a ‘mastery’ model (or ‘secure fit’ as DfE calls it) where pupils must demonstrate attainment of all the statements in the standard in order to achieve the standard. If schools have looked at the recent DfE information leaflet for parents on Key Stage 1 assessment, they were probably bemused to see that it focuses mainly on the tests and scaled scores (which schools don’t have to report to parents) and says next to nothing about the radical change of approach to teacher assessment this year.

Another inescapable consequence of raising national expectations is that more pupils will fall below them compared to previous years. In fact, this year’s Y2s and Y6s are particularly unfortunate; not only will fewer of them attain the new expected standards, but they are also the guinea pigs for the new tests and revised approach to teacher assessment. Outcomes for next year’s pupils will almost certainly be better, simply because they’ve been covering the new curriculum for longer and everyone will be more familiar with the new assessment arrangements. So, explaining and contextualising this year’s results to pupils themselves, as well as to parents, will be particularly important.

Then of course there’s transition to secondary school. Will Y7 teachers appreciate that the difference between a scaled score of 99 (below the national expectation) and 101 (above the national expectation) may be statistically insignificant? Will they understand why a pupil might have a test score well above 100 and yet be accurately judged, via the new teacher assessment approach, to be below national expectations? There’s never been a stronger case for improving communication between primary and secondary on pupils’ academic transition. And given that secondary schools are now held to account purely on the basis of students’ progress from their KS2 results to end of Key Stage 4 outcomes, let’s also hope that there’s an end to the wholesale re-testing of pupils on entry to Key Stage 3.

One of the last remaining questions about the new KS2 test was answered recently when the DfE published its marking review guidance. Under the old regime, schools could request a review if they felt that errors in the marking had led to a pupil being awarded the wrong level. This meant that schools generally only looked carefully at scripts of pupils whose scores were just below the level thresholds. In the new system of calculating school progress scores, as explained in Oxford University Press’s free Guide to Assessment (pages 10-11), every extra mark counts for every pupil. Well, the Government has tried to limit the potential deluge of remark requests by saying that reviews can be submitted if the school believes that, if successful, they would change the pupil’s raw score by three or more marks or they would result in the pupil being above, rather than below, the expected standard. Once the results are released on 5th July, schools will have nine working days to review scripts in relation to the published mark schemes and submit any reviews.

And how is Ofsted negotiating the new landscape of assessment and accountability? A non-systematic read-through of a selection of recent primary inspection reports is generally reassuring. Reports have a strong focus on progress but it’s based on what’s been seen in classrooms, in scrutiny of work and in discussions with pupils. Inspectors recognise that new approaches to assessment are still under development, even in schools judged to be good, although there are criticisms where so much data is being produced that the school isn’t able to identify its key issues. In the end, the key question remains the same as it’s always been – ‘how well is the school using assessment information to improve teaching and learning?’. In periods of change, it’s always good to remember things that are always true; assessment starts with teachers who know pupils well and use that knowledge to take their learning forward. Have a good summer when you get there.

 

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.

Assessment GuideStephen is the co-author of  ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’. The guide is for primary teachers, but will be of particular interest to Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs), including headteachers and middle leaders with responsibility for school assessment arrangements, tracking progress and accountability measures.  Download ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’ now.

Find more support from Stephen, including Professional Development videos, on Oxford Owl, where you can also try out the Assessment for Learning School Improvement Pathway for free! Find out more.

 

 

When you’re ready to start planning, you’ll find a wealth of resources and support from Oxford Primary to help you make the teaching and learning in your school even stronger, and in turn, make next year’s national assessments as stress-free as possible.

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