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More testing in schools - is there an alternative?

Sunday, 18 March 2018
Trials for the new multiplication tables test in Year 4 start this month in selected schools, ready for a roll out in 2019 and compulsory testing in 2020. March 2018 also sees the start of a £10 million contract to develop and run Reception baseline assessment - only 2 years after trials were scrapped. There are many critics of these new assessments and the amount of national testing in primary schools. So what can be done?
Sometimes the onslaught of initiatives can seem over-whelming for teachers, with a feeling that little can be done. However More than a Score, a coalition of a wide range of organisations and experts with an interest in primary education and child development (that also welcomes individual teachers and parents), has a single aim to reform the current National standardised testing and replace it with an effective system of assessment based on research.

The whole website is worth a read. I highly recommend their recent report, published in February,  More than a Score - Baseline assessment: Why it doesn't add up.
It questions many aspects of the accuracy of baseline assessment in Reception, the topics to be tested and the problems with 'value-added'. There is also a concern with disrupting an important settling period in school and whether children could be harmed by early testing and perhaps labelled. However, it's not all criticism, they provide an alternative baseline assessment model and believe the DfE could evaluate national standards through detailed study of sample pupils. 

So what is their aim?
Read their proposal in Assessment: the alternative, their campaign message for an alternative to England's system of statutory primary assessment, based on the way other countries assess children and the body of research that is available. They set out the problem and a way forward for the government.

Who are they?
A body that brings together the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), the Association of Educational Psychologists, the British Educational Research Association (BERA), Cambridge Primary Review TrustNational Association for Primary Education (NAPE), to name a few, which shows the broad nature of it's membership. It also has the support of many individual teachers and parents who can get involved in local groups or online.


New Multiplication Online Check

I find the purpose and value of the planned Y4 multiplication test hard to understand. In the government's guidance this online check "will help to identify pupils who have not yet mastered this mathematical concept, so additional support can be provided." I have never met a Y4 teacher who does not know which children are fluent with multiplication facts and those that are not. There seems no plan to provide teachers with help or resources for this additional support either. I have covered the many issues around this test before: why is there this fixation with table facts - there are other important facts to learn such as addition facts to 20 (although we don't want to give ideas for national tests for these!) The test is against the clock and scored instantly - we all know the anxiety of being put on the spot, even as adults. The results for each school are not expected to be published, which is a good thing, although regional and national results will be published - why? Does this imply that the multiplication check isn't just to help teachers in the classroom? 

Reception baseline assessment

I have written about the many issues around baseline assessment: : the narrow set of skills it will assess, concentrating on numeracy and literacy; assessing 'value added' is problematic as there is no direct correlation between the knowledge and skills known at 5 with those assessed in the end of KS2 tests; it will not be observational or over time.
It is interesting that all three providers from the last trials have recently come out against the new baseline plans.  [Early Excellence, the Centre for Evaluating and Monitoring (CEM) and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).]
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