The Primary ASSESSMENT INQUIRY is underway. We have been asked as professionals to respond to the Commission by Friday 28th October. You have to go online and send a written submission, and I thought you might like to see mine. My biggest problem with the questions as set is that the use of the term “assessment” does not make clear what it is they are asking about, and I do wonder if they themselves understand the problems this will cause when schools respond.
We are asked to comment upon:
1.The Purpose of primary assessment and how well the current system meets this: This question is about assessment- do you specifically mean end of key stage statutory assessment or the sort of assessment that goes on daily in every classroom in the land, that is formative and whose laudable purpose is to inform the teaching so that it is REACTIVE to pupil need. If, as I suspect, you mean the former , many respondents will not realise this. In my opinion as it currently stands END OF KS PRIMARY STATUTORY ASSESSMENT’s clear purpose is accountability, and it informs DFE of the success or otherwise of schools in adding value to their pupils’ achievements at each stage.
Many in the profession seem not to understand that the attainment and progress measurements obtained from this data are about COHORTS not individuals, and nor do they understand they are for YOU not for THEM. They similarly misunderstood previously that the purpose of the EYFS Baseline testing was simply for YOU and tried instead to make it into something they could use for formative purposes in the classrooms . The message that this was not its purpose was simply not strong enough. This was what caused the overwhelming resistance to the initiative to obtain your first measure.
You have decided that for your purposes you need test pupils (other than for writing, ) and these tests in reading and maths appear to have been properly researched and implemented and test what you want them to. As you do not have a baseline for EYFS, there is a need when looking at PROGRESS to use previous KS1 outcomes. I have no problem with the method you use, but schools and teachers do not understand that it is possible to use the data from two different assessment systems in this way, and this will remain a barrier for you, as they simply don’t believe it is valid, whereas for your purposes of course it is.
End of KS writing was teacher assessed and had to be moderated. The moderation process as it was carried out last year, was highly problematic and hugely expensive. My main concern is that daily teacher assessment within all subjects in-year is well developed and highly effective in most schools, and informs in year periodic summative judgements as well as end of year final summation. The tick box approach and the “you must meet all criteria” approach that most LAs adopted to moderate writing of final teacher assessments in Y6 was a very different animal and confused people as to what true TA really should be. The moderation of writing sought to obtain outcomes FOR YOU that in maths and reading would be evidenced in a test situation. As such the process was highly flawed and very confusing to teachers who largely did not realise the differences between them. They complained that tests were too hard for pupils (they were not if in year they had taken account of the new curriculum and the changes they needed to make in classrooms to ensure a mastery approach) and they did not like the moderation as it did not reflect their prior approach to TA and the gathering of evidence. They also felt that moderation did not result in similar approaches in all LAs and led to an uneven playing field.
2. The advantages and disadvantages of assessing pupils at primary school: If you mean the advantages and disadvantages of statutory assessment at the end of each KS rather than the daily assessment of pupils in PS which is integral to teaching then:
Advantages of the tests are that they are:
- a one off simple indicator of a narrow range of taught skills, and an easy, if simplistic method, of central gathering of information on schools for those in power.
- properly produced and administered they are one indicator of performance of schools, but less so of individuals
- reasonably cost effective (or more so than the moderation approach)
- their purpose is widely misunderstood
- they dominate the curriculum throughout the year in Y6, and increasingly in Y2, thus narrowing learning experiences
- they are perceived as high stakes for individuals, whereas they are actually measuring the effectiveness of schools.
- They cause teachers, parents and pupils a level of stress that is unacceptable.
- Moderation is very time consuming, outrageously expensive, and confidence in the process is very low indeed.
- Outcome of the assessments are a) published in league tables, b) wrongly used as predictors of future attainment and c) still label pupils.
3.How the most recent reforms have affected teaching and learning:
Learning has become :
- onerous in Y2 and Y6
- shallow and
- dependent upon remembering methodology rather than on deep and profound understanding
Teaching has become :
- Boring mechanistic, method heavy and uninspired
- focused on drilling for test preparation rather than on formative use of tests to prepare for these end of KS necessities.
4.With regard to logistics and delivery I have no knowledge of these as I am not employed in a school.
5.Training and support needed for teachers and senior leaders to design and implement effective assessment systems: What is required is clarity for leaders and teachers so they understand the subtle differences between all forms of assessment and this particular form of end of KS statutory testing. When you talk about “designing effective assessment systems” I think you actually mean designing effective collection, recording and reporting systems so that periodic SUMMATIVE data, and attainment over time can be tracked at key points. THIS IS NOT ASSESSMENT!!! Talking of these systems in this way is NOT helpful. Yes, schools need electronic central recording systems to record outcomes so that they can easily analyse the data and use it to effect deployment of resources and to report to others, but this is a collection process not assessment.
Currently when collecting data at whole school level, too many schools are trying to use overcomplicated commercial packages that claim: a) to support teacher planning when they are actually just sophisticated, antiquated, MODBURY methodology that indicates what children need to do next mechanistically- and we all know learning is not linear! Teachers are better placed to plan and organise this with their class and their specific needs within the demands of any year than any electronic mumbo jumbo based on numbers and hash tags! These so called “assessment systems” stop teachers thinking as professionals, and make them slaves to a computer system that they have not been involved in designing. Learning is complicated and as soon as we try to codify it in numerical form we completely lose the plot!
Commercial systems claim b) to track progress-THEY DON’T AND CAN’T. Companies are simply trying to apply what they used to do with APS to what teachers are now required to do in a mastery model . They do NOT understand the changes that have taken place in pedagogy and they just encourage schools to reduce learning to a non-sensical number. Simple BINARY systems that indicate whether a child is ON TRACK (1) or NOT(0) at key points in year and allow analysis of smaller identified groups should be the accepted system of tracking as these are sufficient for leaders in school to use for the purpose of allocation of resources where needed and reporting to others. Evidence of progress is best seen in the learning outcomes that are observable and need to be made highly visible not in a spreadsheet.
As for next steps……… I wait with bated breath!!! Simplify and clarify purposes would be my advice.
To all of you reading this I hope you will respond by the deadline as you see fit. It is an important issue and the professionals need to have a voice. If you do not respond then you can’t really complain when what you get is not what you want. I have to say that I think the Government already has a plan and it will be presented to us shortly. One can only hope that final drafts will take account of opinions expressed.