How to put the ass into assessments

How to put the ass into assessments

One effect of the pandemic not yet wholly appreciated is the way it has exposed the weakness in assessing children’s progress at primary school level.

A dramatic shake-up of the SATs system around four years ago has left educators and parents unaware of exactly how children in this age range are faring.

Before the changes, which were politically motivated and designed to appease some in the education sector who hate any testing, the system gave detailed information.

It had taken 20 years to get to that stage and it allowed parents to see exactly how their children were doing, and secondary schools were also far better informed about the progress of children who would be joining them.

Today, children at the end of Year 6 are herded into just three categories for numeracy and literacy: ‘Working Towards Expected Standard’, ‘Working at Expected Standard’ or ‘Working at Greater Depth within Expected Standard’.

Under the previous SATs’ system children were assessed in numeracy and literacy from Level 1 right through to Level 6.

Each of these levels was divided into three (a, b and c,) meaning teachers would have a detailed breakdown of a child’s achievements.

In all there were 18 signifiers, giving detailed feedback to teachers. For instance, a child could be working at Level 3b, when they should be at Level 4.

Children were expected to attain certain levels in each year group and teachers could see exactly where their children were placed educationally. It also made for excellent reporting back to parents.

A child’s progress in the two key subjects could be tracked right through primary school in preparation for secondary education.

Secondary schools were receiving excellent information about the students they were about to enrol.

The current system using just three categories might sound impressive, but it really isn’t.

Children achieving ‘Working Towards Expected Standard’ are scoring under 50%, those ‘Working at Expected Standard’ are somewhere between 50% and 85%, and those ‘Working at Greater Depth within Expected Standard’ are well over 85%.

My reaction to such startling gaps between the numbers is ‘you can drive 10 buses through them’.

The vast majority of children are said to be ‘Working at Expected Standard’, but this is very poor information – there is a huge 35% gap between these numbers.

The difference between a child achieving 50% and one achieving 75% is vast – yet they will be categorised in the same grouping.

Likewise, in the ‘Working Towards Expected Standard’ bracket, there is scope for huge differences in attainment.

A child achieving 30% and one achieving around 50% will be grouped together.

How can teachers help children with such impoverished information? How can parents really know how their child is performing in school? School reports mean very little if there is no detail and no proper scores. Teachers’ comments become bland.

I make no apologies for being more traditional when it comes to basic literacy and numeracy skills. We must have information if we are to help children.

Teachers are constantly testing children in the classroom anyway by asking questions and checking the child has grasped an idea or technique. To make this slightly more formal ought not to be opposed.

However, we also need proper formal assessments that are nationally applied to ensure that we can intervene where necessary and assist children’s learning.

I advocate a return to the system that was working well before it was binned for short-term political expediency.