Any English Questions? A Series in Which Classroom Invites Questions for Different Guest Respondents Each Term

NATE Classroom, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Any English Questions? A Series in Which Classroom Invites Questions for Different Guest Respondents Each Term


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1 Will schools ever be free to use assessment effectively whilst external inspection demands detailed data with regard to pupil progress?

Schools can certainly use formative assessment most effectively in the classroom and in a way that's the most important place. Ofsted does require progress and things like the Fisher Family Trust information can provide some evidence of this. Such information can be used to provide evidence of how a whole cohort is doing. However, it's planning for progress using individualised grades/levels, for instance those generated by APP that is the problem. Measures like these are notoriously inaccurate. Schools, even those being inspected, don't have to use these. The problem is that in the current climate of accountability schools often feel under pressure to do so. There is little sign that the external demands for the provision of data will disappear, however there are many examples of schools that have the confidence to employ effective formative assessment practices on a day to day basis, knowing that this will enhance learning and thereby provide evidence of progress when it is required. Such schools do not make preparation for external testing the driving force in providing successful curriculum and pedagogy.

2 What is the alternative to 'levelling' pupils' work as a method of ensuring standardised, jointly agreed measures of achievement?

The simple answer is that at the moment there isn't an accepted alternative, since reporting levels is a requirement from Key Stage 1 to 3. It's worth pointing out that the levels are best fit descriptions of a pupil's overall achievement, so levelling of individual pieces of work is not necessarily helpful in itself. It's probably also worth noting that it's a bit difficult to say that at this point there are 'standardised, jointly agreed measures', at least not in England, where there is currently no official moderation or standardisation of teacher assessed levels. If, as in Wales, such a system existed, which included cross phase standardisation of portfolios of children's work then the levels would be more meaningful, and the status of teacher assessment enhanced.

3 What is the future for formal assessment at the end of Key Stage 2?

This is an interesting question. We can hope that the decision by many schools to boycott the Key Stage 2 tests this year may have the desired effect of bringing the current testing arrangements to an end, but that is probably a little optimistic. What is certain is that when tests at other key stages and in other subjects have been abandoned, the national testing of all Key Stage 2 pupils in English and maths looks increasingly hard to defend with any logical argument. The previous government, however, remained committed to the tests. It's not clear what will come from the new administration. In opposition the Conservative suggestion was that Year 6 testing be moved into Year 7, but that seems an unworkable solution in reality. A system where the success of one school is judged in part on the results of pupils taken when they have moved to a different school is fraught with potential pitfalls. Even though the Lib Dems wanted to get rid of the tests, it looks like the Tories at the moment will have their say and they seem pretty fond of them. A much made suggestion is that sample testing (with a relatively small number of pupils involved each year) might work as a way to monitor standards in English as a subject over time, and that assessment of individual pupils should then be in the hands of teachers who already formally report a level at the end of the Key Stage. National Sample testing seems to be the way forward in science and at Key Stage 3 so there is no reason it ought not to work in English and mathematics. The fear from government will be that removing current national testing in English and maths will be seen by certain sectors of the media as 'going soft' on standards so it will be interesting to see if any administration has the courage to do this. …

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