February saw a flurry of government announcements about assessment in English schools.
On 4 February information about reception baseline assessment was published. In summary this states that from September 2015 schools may use a baseline assessment on children’s attainment at the beginning of the reception year. DFE has commissioned six providers which are listed in the document. Schools can choose the provider they prefer. This is not compulsory but the guidance states:
Government-funded schools that wish to use the reception baseline assessment from September 2015 should sign up by the end of April. In 2022 we’ll then use whichever measure shows the most progress: your reception baseline to key stage 2 results or your key stage 1 results to key stage 2 results.
From September 2016 you’ll only be able to use your reception baseline to key stage 2 results to measure progress. If you choose not to use the reception baseline, from 2023 we’ll only hold you to account by your pupils’ attainment at the end of key stage 2.
The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) stops being compulsory in September 2016 too.
DfE is therefore essentially ensuring that emphasis is placed on a narrowing measure of attainment in language, literacy and mathematics (with a few small extra bits in most of the six cases), rather than an assessment which presents a much more holistic view of a child’s learning and development. There is a veiled threat implied in the information quoted above. If a school doesn’t use one of these baselines, progress will not be taken into account when a primary school is judged as good or not. Not doing the baseline might be an advantage to a school where children would do very well on it, and then only make expected progress, but still achieve high scores at the end of KS2, and the reverse if children would score very low on the baseline. Are schools now going to gamble whether to do these or not?
There are other serious issues leading to further uncertainty for schools. Almost all the recommended schemes are restricted mainly to language, literacy and mathematics and therefore progress and the school’s effectiveness would be based on a narrow view of what the aims of primary education is for. Five of the six chosen systems do not explicitly draw on parents’ and carers’ knowledge of their children and thus will be based on incomplete evidence. As TACTYC has pointed out, there are fundamental concerns about reliability and validity.
Comparisons between schools and overall judgements would be compromised when there are six different ways to measure the starting points of children in reception. It is inconsistent to allow schools to choose between six providers at baseline but only allow one choice at age 7 and 11.
Finally, as the first time progress will be measured from the baseline at age 11 will be in summer 2023 there will be at least two general elections before then. Will education policy in assessment remain static until then? On current experience that is highly unlikely.
Alongside this inconsistency and uncertainty about the reception baseline the government published its response to the consultations about the draft performance descriptors for the end of KS1 and KS2.
The responses were significantly more negative than positive with the vast majority of respondents indicating that these descriptors were not good enough and would not be able to do the job they were designed to do. Indeed nearly half thought the descriptors were not fit for purpose.
At the same time, and no doubt as a result of the consultation, DFE announced an Assessment without Levels Commission with the remit of ‘supporting primary and secondary schools with the transition to assessment without levels, identifying and sharing good practice in assessment’.
This is clearly to address the significant uncertainty about ongoing and summative assessment at the end of key stages where schools continue to struggle to understand what DfE’s thinking actually is now that levels have been abolished.
Schools in England are in a cleft stick. Do they choose to do one of the baseline tests, which will take considerable time to administer one to one without knowing if it will be used in seven years time or be of use next week to help plan provision? Can they afford to wait for the assessment commission to recommend an approach to assessment without levels or do they get on with it and possibly end up with a system that doesn’t fit with what is recommended?
Thus to answer the question in this blog’s title, the answer on the basis of the evidence above is ‘Who knows?’
What a contrast to the situation in Wales where, also in February, Successful Futures, the review of the curriculum and assessment framework for Wales led by Professor Graham Donaldson, was published.
Phases and key stages should be removed in order to improve progression, and should be based on a well-grounded, nationally described continuum of learning that flows from when a child enters education through to the end of statutory schooling at 16 and beyond.
Learning will be less fragmented… and progression should be signaled through Progression Steps, rather than levels. Progression Steps will be described at five points in the learning continuum, relating broadly to expectations at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16…. Each Progression Step should be viewed as a staging post for the educational development of every child, not a judgement.
What a sensible and coherent recommendation for assessment policy. Thus Wales may very well end up with a coherent, agreed, national framework for both mapping progress and judging attainment at specific ages within a broad understanding of the overall aims of education.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Professor Donaldson’s review drew significantly on the Cambridge Primary Review’s Final Report in coming to its conclusions.
Maybe England’s policy makers should too.
Assessment reform is a CPRT priority. For a round-up of CPR and CPRT evidence on assessment see our Priorities in Action page. This contains links to Wynne Harlen’s recent CPRT research review, relevant blogs, CPRT regional activities, CPR and CPRT evidence to government consultations on assessment, and the many CPR publications on this topic.