The reception baseline and the future of primary progress measures

The release of reception baseline framework in February has understandably generated a lot of buzz (and debate!) about the nature and purpose of the assessment, and has resulted in questions, particularly from early years teachers, about how progress will be measured in future. Much of the confusion seems to stem from the use of the phrase ‘cohort measure’, which has been interpreted by some to mean there will be no progress scores for individual pupils. This needs unpicking but first it’s worth getting to grips with how progress is currently measured between key stage 1 and key stage 2.

First thing to note is that ‘baseline’ is not synonymous with the reception year. Schools have had progress measures for a long time and progress measures require a baseline. Currently that’s KS1 in primary schools (including junior and middle school settings), and KS2 for the progress 8 measure in secondary schools. Without a baseline there can be no progress measures, which would mean accountability being based on attainment alone. Not a popular option amongst most senior leaders. A baseline is therefore required if we are to have progress measures. The question is where should it sit and how should it be done?

The current KS1-2 progress measure is based on each pupil’s KS1 average point score (APS), which is derived from the levels (and sublevels or p-scales) that the pupil received in reading, writing and maths back at KS1. The pupil’s APS score is calculated (with double weighting of maths these days), and the pupil is then placed into a prior attainment group with all the other pupils nationally that have the same KS1 APS score. There are currently 24 prior attainment groups in total, the lower prior attainment groups, containing pupils with p-scales at KS1 will be quite small, whereas the middle and higher prior attainment groups containing Level 2c to Level 3 pupils, will contain tens of thousands of pupils. Note that this process of sorting pupils into prior attainment groups does not officially happen until pupils have taken KS2 tests in year 6, and that’s important.

Once pupils have taken KS2 tests, their test scores are compared to the national average KS2 test score for their particular prior attainment group. This average score is known as the benchmark (or estimate) and there are 72 of them, one for each PAG in each of the three subjects. If the pupil’s result exceeds that benchmark score, they get a positive progress score; if they equal that score, their progress is zero; and if they fall short of the benchmark, their progress is negative. The overall progress – the cohort score – is the average of the difference between each pupil’s score and their respective benchmark score. The cohort score is published in the performance tables, Analyse School Performance (ASP) system, Ofsted’s Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR), and FFT dashboards. Individual pupil progress scores are not published but can be downloaded from various sources including ASP, the Tables Checking website, and FFT Aspire. Ofsted Inspectors may not have access to individual progress scores but they are presented on scatter plots in IDSR, from which inferences can be drawn.

I mentioned above that this process is done retrospectively, after pupils have completed their KS2 tests, and schools do not get to see the data officially until after pupils have moved onto secondary school the following autumn. Why is this important? Because it is important to know that the benchmarks are not set in advance. We can guess by basing estimates on previous year’s benchmarking data, but, unlike with the ‘levels of progress’ measures, we do not know the lines that pupils need to cross until after they have left the school. That is how value added (VA) measures work.

But why do we have to have individual progress measures in the first place? Why can’t we just use aggregated data and do away with matching at the pupil level? In a word: mobility. If we simply took an aggregated approach – comparing the cohort result now to the cohort result four years ago – then we would not be taking account of movement in and out of the school. We are highly likely to be dealing with different cohorts. Currently, when a pupil leaves one school and joins another, they take their KS1 results with them and they will be included in the new school’s progress measures (even if they arrive after Easter in year 6!). Note that if they do not have any KS1 data then they will not be included and that will no doubt be the case in future, too.

So, what about the reception baseline and future progress measures based on it? There will probably be no change. In 2027, when the first cohort of pupils with reception baseline scores reach the end of key stage 2, they will be placed into prior attainment groups along with other pupils nationally with the same baseline scores. With a total possible score of 45, there may be a similar number of PAGs to now. Each pupil’s KS2 score will be compared to a benchmark score, i.e. the national average KS2 score of pupils in the same PAG (i.e. with the same baseline score). As now, pupil progress scores will be the difference between their actual KS2 result and the benchmark score; and the cohort score will be the average of these differences. Pretty much the same methodology as now.

Of course, the big difference from current arrangements is the DfE’s decision to not make baseline scores available to schools, supposedly to stop that score from defining the pupil’s journey through school; and due to the way in which the assessment items are weighted, it will not be possible to work out a pupil’s total score. In its place, schools will instead receive a narrative descriptor of pupil performance. What is not known is whether the baseline scores and individual pupil progress scores will even be made available when the pupils reach the end of key stage 2. This decision will of course have an impact on FFT, who currently use EYFS and KS1 data to calculate end of key stage estimates for pupils. It also creates an interesting dichotomy between secondary schools who have access to their baseline scores and primary schools who won’t.

Of course, everything may change. I guess we’ll find out what happens in 8 years time.

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