How to tell whether an external assessment system is right for your school

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Ever since the government announced the disbanding of National Curriculum levels, schools have been asking for support on what the government and Ofsted expect to see from a school assessment system.

In September, the Department for Education responded with a report called the 'Final report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels’. This commission was set up by the government in February 2015 to advise schools on best practice, and make it clear what Ofsted are looking for from school’s assessment systems.

This report gives guidance on how schools can develop or audit their own assessment policy, but warns schools that, ‘with freedom, however, comes responsibility’.

It stresses that schools looking to save time through the use of external assessment systems should interrogate them, and consider how those tools support the assessment policy and approach of your school.

The questions below are those the commission recommends every school should be asking of any resources bought in. (Naturally, we’ve answered these questions for schools interested in the summative assessment provided in Pearson Primary Progress and Assess tools and resources!)

1) What do the assessment tools support?

The expert guidance recommends you should be clear whether it supports formative or summative assessment, and what the purpose of recording any data is.

The Progress and Assess reading, maths and science tests are designed as six weekly progress checks with an online space for recording results. They provide in-school summative assessment that gives teachers and senior leaders a clear understanding of where children are against age-related expectations in reading, maths and science.

These expectations are driven by the 2014 National Curriculum objectives. They can be used for reporting children’s progress and attainment against the National Curriculum standard and from their starting points.

This can be reported to parents, senior leaders at cohort level, and to class teachers on a six weekly basis. The marking guidance that accompanies the tests offer formative information on what children need to do to improve.

2) What is the quality of information provided?

Progress and Assess provides 3 layers of information. Firstly, where children are against age-related expectations (below, working towards, at or exceeding); secondly, how they are progressing over time in comparison to the class average and national standard; and thirdly where common misconceptions lie.

The judgements on attainment driven by coverage of National Curriculum objectives. A panel of experts in reading, maths and science have then broken down the objectives into small steps of progression, to enable an understanding of what attainment might look like before the achievement of end-of-year expectations.

3) How much time will it take teachers to record information from our tests?

Our tests have been designed to be easy to mark, using marking guidance developed by experts. Our recording tool is also designed to be powerful yet easy to use.

For a class of 30 children it takes around 1 hour to mark the tests, and 5 minutes to input this data and generate a report.

4) How frequently is it appropriate to collect and report this information?

Our maths and science summative tests are designed to check understanding at the end of a six-weekly topic or unit.

Our reading tests can be ran as frequently as every six weeks, or used every three months, depending on the needs of your school.

Current practice is to run these every six weeks, and the commission recommends every 12 weeks if you are not getting formative information from the assessment.

5) Does the product support the school’s policy on assessment?

The Commission recommends that all schools should incorporate in-school summative assessment when developing a ‘robust assessment policy’. The commission recommends that summative assessment firstly supports children’s understanding of how ‘well children have learnt a topic or course of work taught over a period of time’.

It should also help teachers to ‘evaluate pupil learning at the end of an instructional unit... and the impact of their own teaching’.

Progress and Assess offers insightful feedback that children can act on through the expertly written marking guidance. This provides suggestions of children’s common misconception and guidance on how to address this in further teaching.

Each test is based on a specific set of objectives derived from the Pearson Primary Progression Maps for reading, science and maths. This enables teachers to pinpoint specific skills, concepts and knowledge that might be missing.

The report allows you to check at a glance how the children are performing against the national standard, and also where the class average lies.

The Commission recommends that summative assessment is used in conjunction with formative assessment, which it claims ‘should be an integral part of teaching and learning’.

Using Progress and Assess as part of our reading (Bug Club), science (Science Bug) and maths (Abacus) programmes allows schools to cross-reference the summative reports with day-to-day formative assessment opportunities that the programmes provide, such as quizzes on books they’ve read independently, observation suggestions during hands-on science activities and mental maths questions.

The Commission advises that ‘Nationally standardised tests are not as helpful diagnostically’ and advises against using SATs practice papers as the backbone of your summative assessment policy.

However, the tests have been developed to be robust to ensure children are demonstrating their knowledge and understanding in preparation for the new Curriculum requirements that will be tested from 2016 onwards.

6) How will it support the delivery of your school’s policy on assessment?

Delivery of assessment can be a huge workload pressure, and can often be very inefficient. In Progress and Assess we have developed a set of pre-made tools that will ensure you can put your policy into practice, and ensure that it is effective.

The following tools are all designed to support the your in-school delivery:

  • A progression map which supports planning of key assessment outcomes for each term of primary school by offering fine level detail on how children can develop skills and knowledge in the build up to end of year National Curriculum expectations.
  • Individual progression maps for each year (broken down into bookbands in Reading and terms in Maths) to enable teachers to record lightbulb moments as child master each objective. This provides teachers with support on feeding back to parents and children on what strengths they can build on, and which objectives they have yet to master.
  • Our tests are designed to delivered in existing carousel time but flexible enough to fit into your own assessment schedule.
  • Our tests are designed to be dyslexia friendly.
  • If you have a wide range of reading abilities, our reading tests are structured by bookband to allow all children who are able to decode to answer comprehension questions using a text that they can read.
  • Reporting that provides just the key information on whether children in a class or group are meeting age-related expectations.

7) Is the assessment approach on which the product is based credible?

Our end-of-year objectives derive from the National Curriculum for England so that you can be sure that you are assessing children against the demands of the new curriculum.

We have drawn on the extensive expertise of our panel of subject matter experts in maths, reading and science (Dee Reid, Kate Ruttle and Ruth Merttens) to create progression maps that break down the National Curriculum objectives into age-related expectations.

Teachers can see the underpinning progression in the accompanying progression maps for science, reading and maths, and use this to check what they’re assessing fits with what they’re teaching.

8) Does the product give good value?

If you subscribe to our Bug Club or Abacus programme the Progress and Assess tools are included free of charge. Prices for a whole-school start at £150. This provides you summative reporting on all children’s attainment and progress from years 1 to 6.

9) Is it the best way to support delivery of your school’s assessment policy?

Progress and Assess is a toolkit of summative assessment that can complement existing maths and reading programmes in your school, or be bought in as part of our reading programme Bug Club, and maths programme Abacus.

We provide professional development for schools adopting Progress and Assess, as well as on developing an assessment policy in line with the government and Ofsted guidelines.

If you have any further queries on how Progress and Assess matches your school needs, please contact your local Pearson Primary Consultant.