The Progress Loophole of despair: an update

One of the outcomes of the primary assessment consultation is the removal of statutory teacher assessment in reading and maths at key stage 2, which comes into effect this year. It is important to note that there will not be a complete removal of teacher assessment in these subjects – pupils working below the standard of the test will be assessed against the new pre-key stage assessment frameworks and receive a judgement between Standard 1 and 6 – but the vast majority of pupils – those who are working within key stage 2 – will have a test result only. For the last three years most pupils would have a teacher assessment sitting alongside their test result – a simple, binary decision: ‘working at the expected standard’ (EXS) or ‘has not met the expected standard’ (HNM). It was a fairly pointless exercise because the teacher assessment was superseded by the test result, which is all the DfE were really interested in. You could have a pupil with an EXS code that scored 99 and therefore did not achieve the expected standard alongside a pupil with an HNM code who scored 100 and did. These were the ‘Has/Has not met expected standards’ and ‘Has not/Has met expected standards’ pupils, and there were plenty of them. As one headteacher put it, the only way a teacher can make an accurate assessment at key stage 2 is if they had a time machine so they could see the results.

The removal of statutory teacher assessment of reading and maths at key stage 2 will mean the end of those EXS and HNM codes (we will still have WTS, EXS and GDS codes for writing, by the way) and this will also mean the end of an peculiar side effect, which particularly relates to the use of that HNM code. A side effect I termed the progress loophole of despair.

When details of key stage 2 assessment were released in 2016 there was an initial assumption that HNM was a sort of umbrella term for any pupil that did not meet expected standards. In actual fact it is more aligned with WTS in writing, and was used to identify those pupils working broadly at the standard of the tests but who, in the view of the teacher and with reference to the assessment frameworks, were not working at the expected standard. It was not to be used for those pupils working below the standard of the test, who would be assessed against the interim pre-key stage assessment frameworks.

The issue was that unlike the pre-key stage assessments, HNM had no nominal score associated with it. The DfE had no made provision for including pupils assessed as HNM (or EXS for that matter) in progress measures if they failed to score enough marks on the test to reach a scaled score of 80. As the threshold was just 3 marks, one assumes that no one believed this could happen. However, in 2016 a significant number of pupils with HNM codes did just that: they didn’t reach the minimum mark threshold in the test and therefore could not be included in progress measures because there was no nominal score provided for them. Some schools benefitted from pupils’ omission from measures by falling below the minimum mark threshold, whilst those schools where such pupils got the extra mark, and reached the minimum scaled score of 80, were penalised by their inclusion. Essentially, in 2016, there were schools whose progress measures would have improved if certain pupils had done worse in their tests.

It was no surprise that in 2017 this loophole was closed with the obvious introduction of a nominal score of 79 for pupils that sat the test but did not achieve enough marks to get the minimum scaled score of 80. This brought them in line with the highest of the pre-key stage assessments (Growing Development of the Expected Standard) and meant they could now be included in progress measures. Problem solved.

Or so we thought. It transpired that another loophole existed, and this one was more dodgy. The new nominal score made provision for those pupils with a teacher assessment of HNM, who scored below the minimum mark threshold on the test, to be included in progress measures. But what if the pupil with an HNM code was not entered for the test in the first place? This should never happen because an HNM code, like WTS in writing, is an indication that the pupil is working at the standard of the curriculum, and should therefore be entered for the tests. Pupils that are working below the standard of tests should receive a B code and a corresponding pre-key stage assessment, and therefore a nominal score. And yet there are a number of cases where HNM has been used inappropriately, in place of a B code, and this had the effect of omitting pupils from progress measures. The system now made provision for pupils with an HNM code that did not score enough marks, but it was not set up to deal with pupils with an HNM code that did not sit the tests. Now, it has to be said that it is highly unlikely that schools did this deliberately, that it was a cynical ploy – how could they have known? I suspect that it was a mistake due to misinterpretation of guidance. But those schools definitely benefitted from the omission of such pupils from measures that should really have had a pre-key stage assessment and a nominal score.

With the removal of the teacher assessment EXS and HNM codes this year, this should cease to be an issue: pupils below the standard of the test will get a B code and one of the new standards (which no doubt will attract a nominal score), and everyone else will sit the test and either achieve a scaled score in the range of 80 to 120, or be assigned a nominal score of 79 if they fall below the minimum mark threshold. Problem solved.

Not quite. There are some other instances where pupils are removed from progress measures and these relate to the lesser used (or known) codes. Q (used in cases of maladministration) and M (result missing) will result in a pupil’s exclusion from progress measures, but these are not codes a school can select and are unlikely to do so even if they could (Q code anyone?). But A (absent), U (unable to access the test), and D (disapplied) codes are more of a concern. Pupils that miss a test will be coded as absent (A) and will be excluded from progress measures. If it is an unauthorised absence, then schools cannot make arrangements for the pupil to take the test upon their return within the usual 5 day time window. The U code is intended for pupils that are unable to access the test even with appropriate access arrangements. This includes pupils with a disability or specific medical need; those that have spent time in hospital towards the end of the key stage; pupils who are experiencing, or have recently experienced, severe emotional problems; and those who have been educated at home or excluded from school and need time to adjust to regular school life.

The D code (disapplied) probably causes most confusion despite the tightening up of guidance. The term ‘disapplied’ is often used to describe a pupil that is working below the standard of the tests – “we have disapplied him/her from tests” – but ‘disapplied’ is only to be used in cases of pupils that have been disapplied from the national curriculum and for whom it is not possible, therefore, to make assessments because the frameworks – including the pre-key stage frameworks – do not apply. This is rare and guidance states that it should only be used in exceptional circumstances, and yet there is continued uncertainty around the use of this term.

All of the codes described above will result in a pupils’ exclusion from progress measures, and it is absolutely right that that is the case. However, with the stakes as high as they are, and with performance tables that categorise and colour code schools’ progress scores for all to see, one has to wonder if there is scope for these codes to be misused. After all, just one pupil’s data can be the difference between the harbour and the storm.


Assessment and Report Arrangements:

Key Stage 2 progress ready reckoner (useful for modelling all possible outcomes (select first option):

Key stage 2 teacher assessment codes:

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James Pembroke

Data Analyst and Advisor with 10 years experience in primary, secondary and post-16 sectors. Follow me on Twitter: @jpembroke

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