On the 3rd of June England’s Department for Education released information about how to turn children’s answers in their KS1 tests into a scaled score. I am profoundly disappointed by the inconsistency between this document and the fanfare produced over the abolition of levels.

By introducing these scaled scores, the DfE has produced a new level of achievement known in their paper as “the expected standard on the test”. Note that this is quite a different thing to “the expected standard” defined in the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks at the End of KS1. Confused? You should be.

When moving from a level-based “best fit” assessment to the new assessment framework (see my earlier blog post for my concerns on this), a key element of the new framework was that a pupil is only assessed as having met the expected standard if they have attained “all of the statements within that standard and all the statements in the preceding standards” (boldface in original). As schools up and down the country struggle to produce systems capable of tracking pupil progress, I’ve been waiting to see how the Department intends to square this assessment approach with testing. Now the answer is in: they don’t.

Let me explain why. To simplify matters, let’s look at a stripped down version of the “expected standard” for KS1 mathematics. Let’s imagine it just consists of the first two statements:

  • The pupil can partition two-digit numbers into different combinations of tens and ones. This may include using apparatus (e.g. 23 is the same as 2 tens and 3 ones which is the same as 1 ten and 13 ones).
  • The pupil can add 2 two-digit numbers within 100 (e.g. 48 + 35) and can demonstrate their method using concrete apparatus or pictorial representations.

Leaving aside the apparatus question (guidance here states that children were not allowed apparatus in the test, so quite how that’s supposed to measure the expected standard is a mystery), the question remains – how do you convert assessment of each individual strand into an assessment of whether the expected standard is met. Let’s assume our test has a question to test each statement. The teacher assessment guidance is straightforward, if flawed: assess each strand individually and only if all strands have been reached has the “expected standard” been reached. Translating this into our imaginary test, this would mean: mark each question individually, and only if all questions are above their individual pass mark, the standard has been met. Is this the approach taken? Not at all. The approach taken is exactly that used under levels: add up all the marks for all the questions, and if the total is above a threshold then the “expected standard on the test” has been met, i.e. it is a best fit judgement. Yes, that’s right, exactly the kind of judgement railed against by the Department for Education and the Commission on Assessment without Levels – we are back to levels. For better or for worse.

The total mismatch between the approach enforced in testing and the approach enforced in teacher assessment has obviously been spotted by the DfE because they themselves say:

The tests are also compensatory: pupils score marks from any part of the test and pupils with the same total score can achieve their marks in different ways. The interim teacher assessment frameworks are different.

Frankly, this is a mess.

Key Stage 2 test results are out on the 5th of July. I expect a similar approach then, except this time those results form the basis of the school accountability system.

The NAHT is quite right to call for school level data from the flawed 2016 assessments not to be used for external purposes and to question the whole approach of “secure fit”.