What did Bew think about the current KS2 tests?
The review says the evidence it heard on the tests themselves was largely positive. It heard evidence about the degree of measurement error, but said that for school accountability, the test outcomes were a sufficiently reliable indicator of the overall performance of its pupils, particularly if looked at over a three year period. “In practice, what is tested is limited to what can be most consistently marked. This means that important areas of the curriculum may be marginalised or excluded from end of Key Stage 2 testing – in particular use and application of mathematics, speaking and listening and the more practical aspects of science. If these topics do not appear in the ‘high stakes’ testing regime, schools may choose to give them low priority in their teaching. We therefore need to ensure that any future tests strike the right balance between reliability and validity.”
The review rejected suggestions that national standards over time would better be measured by purposely-designed sample testing.
What does Bew say about… the reading test?
The panel says the current test was “reasonably well supported” by respondents although there were concerns about weaker pupils being disadvantaged. The panel makes several recommendations:
That reading should continue to be an externally-marked test
That changes should be incorporated into any new reading tests, adjusting the balance of text and reading time, putting the contents into a clear order of difficulty, and ensuring the texts are accessible to all pupils
The number of written responses required should be kept under review so that it is a test of reading rather than writing
That the government should consider the skills which should be assessed by the reading test, and these should be brought out more clearly in the design of future tests.
Finally, it says: “We feel there is a risk that being forced to over-interpret texts may take pupils away from reading for pleasure and could potentially restrict their love of reading. Pupils at Key Stage 2 should concentrate on reading fluently and regularly; and we believe it is essential that they enjoy their reading and read widely and often with texts becoming increasingly challenging.”
What does Bew say about… the writing test?
The panel heard a great deal of criticism of this during its online call for evidence, with 43 per cent rating it “inadequate” and a further 33 per cent “not very effective”.
The report says there are “significant issues” with the current tests, including the unpredictability of the writing genres, and inconsistency and subjectivity of marking. “Respondents feel they do not reflect classroom practice, whereby children take time with their writing and put effort into spelling, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and handwriting. Others observed that many children produce their best work as part of a structured lesson following an inspired discussion or school trip, while it can be difficult to write creatively under pressured test conditions.”
The panels says there are some elements of writing where there are clearly right and wrong answers and lead themselves to externally marked testing, and some other countries do this. “These are essential skills and we recommend that externally-marked tests of spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary should be developed. We suggest it may be appropriate for handwriting to be assessed in this externally-marked test too.”
However, the report says there is much more to writing than this, and it expresses concerns about the current test, including its marking and the limited choice of genre.
Although the panel feels it can be legitimate to assess writing composition through a test, it shares many of the concerns it heard and feels that in comparison with other subjects it is less valid to measure pupils’ attainment on the basis of one test paper in May. “We recommend that writing composition should be subject to summative teacher assessment only. This will encourage a broad range of writing over the course of Year 6, while avoiding the perverse incentives of the current system. It would allow Year 6 pupils to demonstrate what they can do across a range of genres, and would remove the inevitable disagreements about the marking of individual pieces of writing.”
It believes this will help develop teachers’ creativity. “We want pupils to be taught a wide range of writing genres and to be encouraged to produce their best work each time they write rather than having strict time constraints. This is more likely to lead to a ‘can do’ attitude towards writing and greater enjoyment than is the case if teaching across the year is based on a build up towards the current test.”
However, it recommends that the teacher assessments should be subject to external moderation and “if the moderator has concerns over the accuracy or reliability of the sampled teacher assessment judgements, they should be able to scrutinise additional evidence and, if they consider it appropriate, require the school to change the reported levels.”
Writing composition should always form the greater part of overall writing statutory assessment, says the review.
How will schools be expected to support their judgements on pupils’ writing?
The report says it would not be helpful or appropriate for schools to create portfolios of work or specially prepared examples. Moderators should review exercise books and other examples of marked written work for a range of purposes taken from the whole teaching year, including from other subjects. “If moderators review marked work produced in the course of everyday teaching in Year 6 (together with the teacher’s associated comments) they will get a strong sense both of the pupil’s attainment and the teacher’s assessment skill, without creating any additional workload. We feel it may also be helpful for moderators to have the option of meeting the pupils whose work they have reviewed.”
Why does Bew recommend externally-marked tests for maths?
The evidence suggests the test is widely respected, says the panel. The most frequent criticism of the maths test was the amount of reading and vocabulary required of pupils.
Does the panel make any further suggestions about maths?
Yes, it says the amount of reading in the maths test should be kept under review as test are developed, to ensure weaker readers are not unfairly disadvantaged. It also says teacher assessments on the maths attainment targets of use and application; number; shape, space and measure and handling data should be reported at pupil level to parents and secondary schools.
Did the panel talk about science testing?
It heard a range of evidence both supporting and complaining about the decision to end externally-marked testing of science, but agrees with the principle that it is difficult to measure scientific enquiry through an externally-marked test, and that to test might distort what was taught. It recommends retaining summative teacher assessment, and that this should be reported to parents and secondary schools. There should also be sample testing as now. It recommends that the current arrangements should be revisited once the new science curriculum has been created.
What about the timing of the tests?
Evidence on this was mixed, and there were particular concerns about the suggestion that the tests might be delayed until the start of Year 7. “We believe this is not the best solution to the problems with the current system,” says the report, recommending no change.