The past, present and future of Primary assessment

Poppy Gibson

Poppy Gibson is a lecturer in Primary Education in the Teacher Education Department, coming into HE after over a decade working in several London Primary schools. Poppy currently works on the University of Greenwich's Accelerated degree programme in Primary Education, and is the Modern Foreign Language coordinator, teaching MFL on the PGCE and BA QTS programmes. Key research interests include identity, motivation, and the integration of technology into our lives.

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Image credit: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure // Orion Pictures. Image credit: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure // Orion Pictures.

I recently received an invitation to chair the Westminster Insight forum in London on the assessment reform in our Primary schools. At first, I felt a little unsure; the word ‘baseline’ was being muttered on everyone’s lips in the staffroom, and I wondered if this could end up being a rather fiery forum to have to control. I realised, however, that the main reason so many teachers and parents - as well as fellow lecturers in the Teacher Education Department - seem so concerned about the new baseline testing for Reception is that there is still much ambiguity about how the testing will be done.

In general, we know that assessment is a contentious issue that goes hand-in-hand with accountability; I wanted to find out more about what the future of assessment looks like, and unpick the potential impact that this reform will have on the children in our Primary schools.

So I accepted the challenge, and chaired the forum. This article will review the key information shared at the event - assessment changes, assessment today, and the future for Primary assessment reform. This article also hopes to dispel some of the myth around baseline assessment.

1. The recent past of assessment

The event began with an informative presentation from the morning’s keynote speaker: Jim Magee, head of Assessment Policy, Standards and Testing Agency (STA) for the Department for Education (DfE). Jim began by reviewing recent changes in assessment, such as the new KS1 and KS2 tests and assessments introduced in summer 2016, based on the 2014 National Curriculum. Some “The government is developing a new baseline as a statutory assessment.”concerns were expressed around the level of challenge, the uses of data (given the level of challenge), the writing interim framework, and administration / notice provided to schools. Also, as Jim pointed out, there was a general election and key ministerial changes.

In October 2016, the secretary of state set out a series of measures: clarification regarding the EYFSP, ruled out Year 7 resits, confirmed KS1 GPS would remain non-statutory in 2017, and promised no new tests or assessments before summer 2019. Improvements to moderation were also planned, as well as consideration of how test experience could be improved. A Primary assessment consultation was also promised for 2017.

Primary assessment consultation 2017

As agreed, the consultation document launched in March last year. The Primary assessment consultation ran for 12 weeks, March to June 2017, and received 4,700 responses (including 1,000 headteachers). The consultation asked for views on:

  • Content of the EYFSP and assessment process.
  • The level of development categories.
  • Appropriateness for SEND pupils.
  • Impact on teacher workload and how it is moderated.

Preparing for children to succeed at school

The consultation asked for views on whether we should move to a reception baseline assessment. The content and timing of a baseline were discussed, as well as accountability arrangements - Infant, Middle and Junior schools. Regarding baseline, the consultation asked whether people would prefer to make KS1 teacher assessments more robust to use as a baseline. In response to the 2017 consultation, the government is developing a new baseline as a statutory assessment, ready for introduction in reception by autumn 2020. This will continue to discuss the detail of the assessment with a wide range of stakeholders as they develop the assessment. It will ensuring that the prime focus of the assessment will be on skills which can be reliably assessed and which correlate with attainment in English and Mathematics at the end of KS2, and also ensuring a proportionate approach for Infant / Middle / Junior schools.

Role of KS1 statutory assessments

The consultation asked for views on whether end of KS1 assessment become non-statutory, once a Reception baseline is fully established and whether they should produce optional tests materials for use at the end of KS1. In response, the government is making end-of-KS1 assessment non-statutory as soon as the reception baseline assessment becomes fully established (the DfE intend to make this change from the 2022/23 academic year onwards). The DfE plan to continue to use KS1 assessments as the baseline for progress measures up until this point, providing optional KS1 assessment materials. The STA also plan to introduce periodic sampling to monitor standards over time.

Proportionate assessment system

The consultation asked for views on whether the requirement to carry out statutory teacher assessment in reading and Mathematics at the end of KS2 should be removed, whether the KS1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test should remain non-statutory, how the new multiplication tables check can be implemented in as non-burdensome a way as “KS1 tests are to be made non-statutory in 2023.” possible, and whether any burdens associated with the assessment system could be removed. In response, the government is removing the requirement to carry out statutory teacher assessment in reading and Mathematics at the end of KS2 from 2018/19, retaining the KS1 grammar, punctuation and spelling test as an optional assessment, and introducing the multiplication check as a brief, online assessment with school-level data not to be made publicly available. The DfE will continue to review the burdens associated with the assessment system, and to make changes to the test week timetable.

Improving end-of-key stage assessment

The consultation asked for views on whether the statutory assessment of writing should be made more flexible approaches to the assessment and moderation of writing that should be explored in the future. It also set out an intention to evaluate the interim teacher assessment frameworks in all subjects. In response, the government moved to a more flexible approach for assessing English writing this year, and also published supporting exemplification materials reflecting these changes. The DfE has been working with the sector to explore the use of comparative judgement, and has introduced updated frameworks in reading and Mathematics at KS1 and Science at KS1 and KS2 from the 2018/19 academic year onwards.

2. The future for Primary assessment

Changes this year - very little

  • In summer 2019, teachers must use updated frameworks to make statutory teacher assessment judgements for pupils at the end of Key Stage 2 in English writing and Science.
  • The revised English writing frameworks are the same as those introduced for 2017/18, and remain unchanged for 2018/19 onwards.
  • The frameworks do not include English reading and Mathematics, because schools will no longer be required to make statutory teacher assessment judgements in these subjects from 2018/19.
  • 2017/18 is the last year that schools will be required to report teacher assessment judgements in English reading and Mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.
  • Science sampling 2018: The biennial Science sampling tests have been taking place in June 2018 (recently finished mid-June).The tests were administered in selected schools by external administrators. A representative sample of approximately 9,500 pupils were randomly selected, based on five pupils from 1,900 schools.

Changes over the next five years

2017/18 changes to Primary assessment are:

  • KS1 tests are to be made non-statutory in 2023 with the GPS test being optional again in 2018.
  • There will be no requirement for schools to submit KS2 teacher assessment for reading and Maths from 2018/19.
  • As planned, a multiplication tables check is to be introduced from 2018/19.
  • Updated interim pre-Key Stage standards have also been published for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in response to the consultation on the Rochford Review.

Baseline assessment: Facts versus myth

New teacher-mediated assessments are to be conducted in Reception from 2020 as a baseline measure, along with improvements to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. Many critics of the new baseline plans are concerned that the assessments would involve perhaps iPad-based testing, worlds apart from the teacher observations that many practitioners are the best way to observe and monitor children’s progress in the early years. At the forum, this myth was dispelled as it was revealed that the baseline pilot is using assessment strategies consistent with current teacher observations, such as the use of ‘counting bears’ and hands-on, practical activities. The data collected through such baseline assessments should be kept at local level, as a way to monitor individuals on an ipsative scale. Who can argue about the value of ipsative assessment, the way of comparing a learner’s current performance with their previous performance in order to better understand their educational journey?

3. Assessment: What works

To summarise, there are four key things that can help to build successful assessment practice in our Primary schools:

1. Moderate: Moderation is key, especially with summative assessment. Ensure that what one teacher defines as ‘achieved’ is mirrored by their peers, and that this is replicated throughout year groups, schools and trusts.
2. Report: When reporting to parents, make it clear; to hear that your child is ‘not yet at the expected standard’ can be upsetting and even daunting. Clearly explain, as a school, the curriculum and higher expectations, along with the pathway their child will be taking. It also helps if schools can clearly define for parents the expectations so that they are clear on these and know how to help their child.
3. Collaborate: Focus on the key aspects of the new curriculum expectations, the things that really matter. By combining English (and Maths) leaders from several schools, you can develop a strong voice for what should be deemed as key objectives for year groups. By defining the more important, key steps for pupil achievement, teachers will feel empowered, and will ultimately concentrate on aspects to raise end of Key Stage attainment.
4. Remember: There is more to learning than ‘life without levels’. Ultimately, this is a staff subject to guide the curriculum. Pupils are there to enjoy learning, experience those WOW moments, and to be nurtured as individuals... Assessment is a very small part of the big stuff for little people.

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