Redressing the Balance

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By Laura Lodge
on 10 February, 2017

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Assessment Review Group Issues Report on ‘Redressing the Balance’

The NAHT’s independent Assessment Review Group was established in May 2016 to consider the current assessment system and propose an alternative for the future.

The group comprises experienced education practitioners, academics and assessment experts, who met on eight occasions to consider evidence and key issues.

The Assessment Review Group’s report ‘Redressing the balance’, published last week, sets out a number of key principles for assessment.

Assessment is at the core of good teaching and learning

Effective assessment is key to understanding strengths, areas for development and next steps for best progress. As such, the group recognises the need for the effectiveness of assessment to continue to be improved, through initial teacher training and ongoing CPD.

Statutory assessment should be separated from ongoing assessment that happens in the classroom

Under pressure in terms of data, some schools are focusing in too much detail on statutory assessment, with the result that the curriculum is narrowed and rote learning emphasised. To prevent this, the group recommends the collection of data should not focus on predicting future performance and instead it should look more closely at current performance against age-related expectations. Assessment should support learning, rather than simply tracking progress.

Data from statutory assessment will never tell you the whole story of school effectiveness

The group found that the culture of assessment was negatively impacted by the use of raw data to inform intervention. Results in this form are useful for pinpointing areas for further investigation, however this needs to be analysed in relation to other school-specific factors. As the group says: “No intervention should be triggered on the basis of test data alone. Rather the results from statutory assessments should trigger further discussion leading to a qualitative expert judgement.”

The statutory assessment system should be accessible to pupils of all abilities and recognise their progress

The current system of labelling children’s attainment is seen by the group as a failure, as some children’s progress is ignored, with a proportion of children essentially failing. The impact of such a label is sure to lead to demotivation. Currently, the tests focus too much on test technique rather than allowing children to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge. Therefore, the group advocates for changes to time limits and ensuring the tests are presented in an accessible way. This is of particular interest in terms of the Reading test.

Progress should be valued over attainment in statutory assessment

If data is to be used as the measure of school effectiveness, the group sees progress as the fairest way forward. However, starting points should not be used to assume future performance. Moreover, if schools are to be compared on progress scores, a great deal of caution needs to be taken.

The number of statutory assessments in the primary phase should be minimised

The Assessment Review Group found research evidence suggests that there is no correlation between the frequency of testing and pupil outcomes. As statutory testing plays a disproportionate role in the assessment of primary pupils, it follows that a reduction in the amount of testing would help to restore balance.

The Assessment Review Group also considered a possible future model and the issues that might arise. Their alternative model for statutory assessment proposes:

  • Reporting pupil performance as a score on the national scale to ensure that children’s progress is celebrated and unhelpful labelling is removed.
  • Introducing national sampling and assessment banks to monitor standards in particular subjects.
    • The data gleaned from sampling would not be used to hold individual schools to account but instead gain an understanding of the national picture. The group also foresees the possibility of using an established national sampling model to replace national testing in the future. In addition to national sampling, the review recommends the creation of a national assessment bank to support schools form robust assessment practices.
  • Making statutory tests accessible and enabling pupils to show progress.
    • The review found that accessibility will be positively impacted by structuring tests in order of difficulty and giving consideration to the removal of time limits. Instead, the review group argues for the introduction of a minimum and maximum time where children can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.
  • Streamlining and improving key stage two statutory assessments.
    • At key stage two, maths and reading would continue to be externally tested. Writing would remain teacher assessed, however the system would need to be improved so that it focuses on quality and not a tick-list of elements. One way forward that the group explored was the use of comparative judgement, however this would need to be examined in more detail.
  • Removing all end of key stage one statutory assessments.
  • Having two statutory assessment points for primary pupils in reception and year six.
    • This would allow schools to focus on teaching a broad and balanced curriculum. The group envisions schools being able to choose their assessment models between these two assessments, with current screening checks (e.g. Year 1 Phonics) being part of a national sampling framework.
  • Introducing a start of primary school statutory assessment during a child’s first year in primary school. 
    • This assessment would be observation-based and use a single, nationally agreed format. A moderation process would be created to support accurate and consistent judgements. However, the results of this assessment would not be used to set targets or predict future outcomes for pupils. Instead, the group agreed that the data would be used as a cohort level measure of progress. In terms of the timing of the assessment, the group acknowledge that there is more to consider in terms of this complex issue.
  • Accepting data is only one part of the picture of school effectiveness with no single set of results leading to negative consequences for a school.
    • The group recommends that all data is analysed over a three year rolling period. Cohorts of pupils vary and a temporary dip in data does not necessarily mean that a school needs intervention.
  • Ending floor and coasting standards as determinants of intervention.

These would be replaced with more dialogue between schools and those that hold them to account. The recommendation is for discussion to start with a school’s context and the story behind the data, before working positively together to make progress.

The full report goes into detail on key issues, such as the primary baseline, writing teacher assessment at key stage two and national assessment banks.

In the group’s own words, they have “Set out a broad vision for what an alternative system could look like.” However, there are still numerous more complex questions to definitively answer. The chair, David Ellison, sees the report as a starting point from which a bigger debate can flourish. Perhaps the Department for Education’s promised consultation on primary assessment will herald this. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that no new assessment system will come without controversy, nevertheless the Assessment Review Group has provided us all with food for thought.

Laura frequently authors blogs on developing Literacy and supporting schools to make and show progress. For more information about One Education's Literacy support services, please contact Laura Lodge on 0844 967 1111.

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