Updated: Assessment after levels – so what will it look like?

Stephen Anwyll

The summer of 2015 saw the end of a 25-year period in primary schools when attainment was assessed and reported in relation to a continuous scale of ‘level descriptions’. Along with levels, the old National Curriculum and its associated assessment and accountability arrangements, are now consigned to history and everyone involved in primary schools – pupils, parents, teaching staff, governors, academy chains, Local Authorities, Ofsted inspectors and the Government – has to begin to settle down with a new curriculum, new expectations and standards, and new forms of assessment and accountability. It was a bit unnerving to hear the Secretary of State proposing possible changes at Key Stage 1 before we’d even started the new arrangements and the Government has had to go back to the drawing board on the Reception baseline assessment, but here’s what we know will happen in 2016 at least!

New assessment arrangements from 2016

With the Test Frameworks, Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks, sample tests and Assessment and Reporting Arrangement booklets for 2016 all published, we now know almost all details of the new arrangements.

Early Years

Most schools opted to use one of the three, new ‘approved’ Reception Baseline assessments in the first half of the autumn term. The Government’s plan was that, in 2022, when the current Reception pupils reached the end of KS2, the school’s pupil progress measure would be based on 2015 Baseline or 2018 KS1 results compared to KS2, whichever was better. Now that a comparability study on the three Reception Baselines has concluded that the outcomes should not be used as the basis of school accountability measures, the Government is considering other options for assessment in Reception after 2016-17. We don’t know what alternative approach will be chosen but we do know that ‘sufficient progress’ in the school accountability measures will continue to be based on progress between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 until at least 2023. The Early Years Profile becomes non-statutory after the summer of 2016.

Key Stage 1

Teacher assessment (TA) will continue to be the reported outcome. In reading, writing and mathematics, the TA judgements will be made in relation to new ‘standards statements’ which can be found in the KS1 Interim Teacher Assessment Framework; each area has three standards:

  • working towards the expected standard
  • working at the expected standard
  • working at greater depth within the expected standard

A fourth standard, ‘foundations for the expected standard’ is available for pupils who are considered not to have complete the key stage programmes of study and may well have not been entered for the tests.

In science, there is only one standard statement for ‘working at the expected standard’ and the judgement is simply whether or not each pupil has attained it. The key change from teacher assessment in the past is that this is no longer a ‘best fit’ model; teachers must have evidence that pupils can consistently demonstrate attainment of all statements within the standard. We’ll have to wait and see just how ‘interim’ the Teacher Assessment Framework proves to be but there will be a review after first use in 2016.

New statutory tests in reading, mathematics and grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) will be made available each year and must be administered during May. They will be internally marked and then, in June, the Standards & Testing Agency (STA) will publish a table which will enable schools to convert pupils’ raw scores into scaled scores.

Scaled scores are simply a different way of reporting test outcomes which converts the national expectation threshold to a score of 100 and then distributes pupils’ actual test scores on a scale on either side of 100. Although the results will be a specific ‘score’, the tests themselves will not be more accurate than in the past.

The 2016 Assessment and Reporting Arrangements (ARA) make clear that KS1 test results are not submitted or published and only need to be reported to parents if they specifically request them. Test outcomes are intended to inform TA judgements but the GPS test will obviously only cover the technical aspects of writing.

Key Stage 2

A single suite of tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS) and mathematics will be administered in the week commencing 9th May. They will cover a wider range of attainment than the old Level 3-5 tests and will be based on a higher expected standard. The tests will be externally marked on-screen and results will be available on 5th July, including each pupil’s raw scores, their scaled scores (see above) and whether or not they have attained the national expectation (i.e. they have a score of 100 or above).

Teacher assessment will be reported alongside test outcomes. For reading, mathematics and science, where test outcomes rather than teacher assessment will be included in the accountability measures, judgements will simply be in relation to a single standard statement which defines the new national expectation. In writing, where the teacher assessment judgement will figure in calculating the school’s accountability measures, there are three standards, as at KS1:

  • working towards the expected standard
  • working at the expected standard
  • working at greater depth within the expected standard

A fourth option will be that the pupil does not fulfil all elements of the ‘working towards’ standard. Three additional standards are available in reading, writing and mathematics for pupils who have not completed the Key Stage 2 programmes of study; in reading and mathematics, they will typically be used for pupils who were not entered for the tests. Full details are published in the KS2 Interim Teacher Assessment Framework. Teacher assessment judgements will need to be submitted by 30th June in 2016, a few days before schools can access the test results.

New accountability measures

School accountability measures will also change from 2016. Until at least 2023, the main accountability focus for primary schools will be the progress pupils make between the ages of 7 and 11. Despite the difficulties with the Reception Baseline assessments in 2015, the Government remains committed to measuring progress over seven years between the start of Reception and the end of Year 6 and will look at other approaches over the coming months.

Floor standard measures have been raised for 2016. The attainment floor remains at 65% of pupils achieving the national expectation in their reading and mathematics tests (i.e. a scaled score of 100 or more) and in their writing teacher assessment, but of course the national expectations will be harder to attain from 2016. The floor standard progress measure will be based on a new definition of pupils making ‘sufficient progress’ in all three areas – reading, writing and mathematics – and not, as before, in any one of them. The progress measure will only be defined after the 2016 results are known, so schools will have to wait some time to find out their fate if they are below the attainment threshold.

Legislation has now passed through Parliament introducing a new category of ‘coasting schools’ which the Secretary of State will be able to deem ‘eligible for intervention’. The criteria are based on schools’ attainment and progress over three years from 2013-14 to 2015-16. A school can be defined as coasting in 2016 only if, in both 2014 and 2015, it has had less than 85% of its pupils reach a combined level 4 in reading and mathematics tests and writing teacher assessment and if the percentage of pupils making at least two levels of progress between Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 was below the national median in all three areas. Any school in this position will escape the category in 2016 if 85% of its pupils meet the new, higher national expectation in reading, mathematics and writing or its pupils’ progress from Key Stage 1 meets a measure which is more demanding than the one used for the floor standard measure and which also will not be announced until the autumn of 2016. If a school is judged to be ‘coasting’, the government’s local Regional Schools Commissioner will assess whether or not the school has a credible plan to improve; if so, it will be supported to do so by ‘expert heads’, but if not, it may be turned into a sponsored academy.

Calculating progress

The end of levels also means the end of calculating progress from KS1 to KS2 in terms of the difference in levels attained. A new approach will be used to measure progress to the end of KS2 from KS1 and, eventually, from a Reception Baseline if an assessment is developed which provides a fair outcome. The methodology works as follows, here based on progress between the end of Key Stages 1 and 2:

  1. Take a pupil’s performance in the end of KS2 reading or mathematics tests or writing teacher assessment.
  2. Look back at that pupil’s aggregated prior attainment at the end of KS1.
  3. Take all the pupils nationally who had exactly the same KS1 prior attainment and look at their KS2 results; work out the average progress made by this group of pupils between Key Stages 1 and 2.
  4. Go back to the original pupil and see if she/he made more or less progress than the average. If it’s more than average, she/he gets a positive score and if it’s less than average she/he gets a negative score.
  5. Repeat the process for all the pupils in the school’s Year 6 cohort and add up all the resulting positive and negative scores.
  6. If its pupils have made more than average progress, the school has an overall positive score, and if they have made less than average progress it has a negative score.

Implications of the new assessment and accountability arrangements

  • An increased focus on the progress of every pupil in all core subjects from Reception to Year 6
  • Less reliable and stable data for several years while all parties become more familiar with the new curriculum, raised expectations and different forms of assessment. This will be even more the case if the arrangements are changed again in 2017.
  • A new group of schools, where attainment has previously been deemed sufficient though pupils’ progress has been poor, becomes vulnerable to intervention.
  • Schools will need to think hard about how they describe attainment and how they explain the new test and TA outcomes to pupils and parents.
  • An urgent need for secondary schools to engage with feeder primaries to ensure that they both understand and make use of the new assessment information they will receive next summer.

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.