6 Things You Need To Know About Primary Assessment

Assessment season is here again. In secondary schools, students are filling exam halls to sit GCSEs and A Levels, their pens and pencils contained in clear cases and phones and smartwatches locked away. Meanwhile, in primary schools, teachers are gearing up to administer the seemingly ever-lengthening list of statutory assessments. In this blog post, we’ll take a look all of the assessments that take place in primary schools and pick out a few key facts and odd quirks about each. 

Reception Baseline (RBA)

OK, the reception baseline isn’t administered at this time of year – it runs across the first 6 weeks of the autumn term – but it’s the earliest of the statutory assessments, and therefore needs to be included.  A 1-to-1 assessment, pupils aged 4-5 years old attempt a series of literacy- and maths-based tasks, the answers to which are recorded on an online portal. This version of the reception baseline took over from the previous ‘multi-provider’ idea, which was never going to work. Schools do not receive the results – instead they receive a set of narrative statements – but the score does follow the pupil if they change schools (you just won’t know what it is!).

The sole purpose of this baseline assessment is to generate a number that enables the DfE to place pupils into prior attainment groups at the end of key stage 2 for the purpose of calculating school-level progress scores. The progress calculation will follow the same value-added-style methodology currently used to calculate KS1-2 progress scores i.e. a pupil’s KS2 scaled score will be compared to the national average KS2 scaled score of pupils with the same reception baseline result. It can be difficult to comprehend how this can be done considering the apparent incompatibility of the reception baseline and KS2 tests, but the same can be said about Progress 8 where a pupil’s GCSE grade in, for example, German is compared to the national average German grade of pupils with the same KS2 scores in reading and maths. 

An odd quirk of the reception baseline is how it affects infant, first, middle, and junior schools (or, rather, doesn’t affect them). Infant and first schools have a statutory duty to administer the baseline but have no progress measures based upon them. And, from 2028, when the first cohort of ‘reception baseliners’ reach the end of the KS2, junior and middle schools will no longer have progress measures either. Instead, they will have ‘a responsibility to evidence progress using their own assessment information’. If you’re the head of an all-through’ primary school, maybe you should consider splitting up?

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP)

Not too much to say about this assessment. The EYFSP underwent an overhaul in 2021 with a new set of early learning goals, but the main change as far as the data is concerned was the removal of the ‘exceeding’ category, which means that pupils either reach the ‘expected’ level of development or are ‘emerging’ within the goals. One interesting decision taken by the DfE was to remove all trace of EYFSP data from current and historical Analyse School Performance (ASP) reports and from Ofsted’s Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR). One hopes that these changes will stop various agencies from making links between EYFS and KS1 results, but that’s probably wishful thinking.

Phonics Screening Check (PSC)

One thing we learned during the pandemic was that the phonics check is untouchable. Every other form of assessment stopped – university exams, A levels, GCSEs, Key Stage 1 and 2 tests, Multiplication Tables Check, EYFSP, RBA – but the phonics check rolled on, a lone wolf in the assessment wilderness. The only nod to the prevailing winds being that it was shifted from the summer term of year 1 to the autumn term of year 2. What happened to that data is anyone’s guess: no national figures from that period have been published. The DfE did briefly consider using the scores as an alternative baseline to plug the gap created by the absence of KS1 data, but thought better of it. 

One of the most interesting facts about the phonics check is that the pass mark is never announced in advance but it’s always set at 32/40. Consequently, very few pupils achieve scores between 0 and 30 and there is a notable dip at 31. Maybe one of these days it will change and schools will be caught out. 

Key Stage 1 (KS1)

Key Stage 1 tests are now optional. But exactly how optional is optional? The ‘primary assessment future dates’ website states that ‘it is recommended that the optional key stage 1 tests are administered during May 2024’ and schools will continue to receive the test materials. Furthermore, it would appear that some LAs are still intending to collect the data. Consequently, the majority of the schools will continue to administer the tests. Of course, now that the heat has been turned down, perhaps the data will become more reliable. It’s going to be interesting to compare pre- and post-optional KS1 results. 

KS1 teacher assessments (not test scores) have been used as the baseline for progress measures for years but there are gaps in the record due to the pandemic hiatus. This means that the current years 5 and 6 will not have progress measures (due to the suspension of KS1 assessment during the pandemic), and the current years 3 and 4 (who do have KS1 results) will. After that – the current year 2 onwards – will have progress calculated from RBA. 

Unless a new government scraps the whole thing and starts again. 

Multiplication Tables Check (MTC)

What is there to say about the MTC? It tests how well pupils know their multiplication tables, and they have 6 seconds to enter each of the 25 answers on to an online portal. Perhaps most interesting is MTC assessment framework, which states that ‘there is no expected standard threshold for the MTC’ and then goes on to state ‘there is no standard for the MTC beyond the number and percentage of pupils who achieve full marks’ in the next paragraph. 

The expectation is clearly to score 25/25 and that has become the key measure. 

Key Stage 2 (KS2)

And so we come to KS2. Nothing much has changed: we still have tests in reading, maths, and grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS), the results of which sit alongside teacher assessments in writing and science. High stakes performance measures of writing, based on blunt, unreliable and potentially distorted teacher assessment, are particularly problematic. Likewise, those pupils assessed as pre-key stage – i.e. working below the standards of the tests – are counted as having not achieved expected standards and are assigned a ‘nominal score’ for inclusion in progress measures. Those that devise such measures would do well to watch Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”.

Perhaps of most significance, from a data and accountability point of view, is – as mentioned above – the current year 5 and 6’s lack of KS1 data, which means no progress measures for the next two years. The 2024 and 2025 performance tables will, therefore, be based on attainment alone, which will be uncomfortable for many schools. The DfE could take the fair and sensible decision to suspend performance tables until 2026 (when the current year 4, who do have KS1 results, reach the end of KS2) or they could just ditch them altogether. Perhaps a new government might do just that. 

Would the removal of performance tables have an impact on school standards? 

It’s an interesting question.

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One thought on “6 Things You Need To Know About Primary Assessment

  1. Rebecca Scutt
    on May 4, 2024 at 8:29 pm

    A very enjoyable bank holiday read which I have sent to all staff.

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