‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ & Why I won’t lose sleep over what the DfE does next…

If you haven’t yet worked through the KS2 interim assessment framework yet, it’s well worth doing. I spent some time on training today with a group of Y6 teachers unpicking the new frameworks in Reading, Writing and Maths and the implications that these have on our practice back in school. Teacher Assessment is such an important area and the change to timings this year so that these are submitted prior to the test results being returned will ensure that any schools who got lazy and weren’t rigorous enough in this area will have to sharpen their practice.

Higher Expectations

The first thing to say is that they are progressive and that the increased demand in expectation is clear to see. Whatever is written negatively about the focus on grammar and arithmetic, there is no doubt that this increase in standard will result in children who have higher skills within these subject areas. The reality is that too many young people have spent 13 years in formal education and have still left without the ability to read, write and properly; I know this having read many job applications over the last 10 years. Our challenge is to make sure we can deliver on this without losing the creativity, engagement and enjoyment which is what primary education should be all about.

There were concerns raised about an interesting announcement that random schools will be selected in March to complete the tests which will then inform the standardisation process for the rest of the schools that take the tests in May. Apparently, these school will then not take the tests in May but is it the case that these March results will then be published alongside the others? No-one had any concrete answers on this. Bearing in mind that the revision period from March to May is often the key to succeeding in tests, this is potentially a difficult one. I’ll be relieved if Simon de Senlis isn’t drawn out of that particular hat. 

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IS INCORRECT – this practice will only take place at KS1, see the comment below from Michael Tidd. Twitter apparently now provides us with more accurate information than official training!

Here are a few of my notes from the different subject areas with some of my thoughts as we went through the day…

READING

For reading, there are only statements published for ‘Working at the Expected Standard’. Working towards and working at a deeper level are not covered here – this will be for the test to decide. This leaves us the following very concise and clear set of 9 statements which ALL need to be achieved for a child to be assessed as ‘working at the expected standard’.

The pupil can:

  •  read age-appropriate books with confidence and fluency (including whole novels)
  • read aloud with intonation that shows understanding
  • work out the meaning of words from the context
  • explain and discuss their understanding of what they have read, drawing inferences and justifying these with evidence
  • predict what might happen from details stated and implied
  • retrieve information from non-fiction
  • summarise main ideas, identifying key details and using quotations for illustration
  • evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reader
  • make comparisons within and across books.

A useful discussion took place around the teaching of reading and how schools are approaching Guided Reading. We are currently trialling the teaching of reading without the traditional Guided Reading structure with a focus on extended novels and whole class texts which we hope will help children to become more familiar with texts outside their usual choice and develop their ability to enjoy and appreciate ‘whole’ texts.

WRITING

The increase in expectation here is dramatic. Common consensus is that to achieve ALL of the elements that are included in the ‘Expected Standard’ will mean that this feels more like a old Level 5 standard than the 4B/4A that was previously suggested.

Writing is interesting because it remains the only area that will be reported on via Teacher Assessment in 2016. Since the Writing Test was taken out, standards in writing have apparently risen significantly whilst in Maths and Reading, overall percentages have been more moderate. This has brought into question the rigour and integrity of assessment in this area. We were given the opportunity to prove that Teacher Assessment was a more effective way; it is almost certain that this will disappear and we will return to a test in 2016.

A couple of areas that caused skirmishes but were expertly extinguished by our visiting moderator were around the use of Passive Voice and Handwriting. We were reminded that the expectation on passive voice was not for all pieces of work but for those where it was appropriate and therefore as long as there was a broad range of writing in genres such as explanation, instruction and reports, it’s likely that there will be plenty of evidence of this. With handwriting, cold sweats broke out when this was highlighted that children needed to  maintain ‘legibility, fluency and speed in handwriting through choosing whether  or not to join specific letters’ in order to meet the expected standard.  The following caveat from the Framework allayed the initial fears:

‘Where pupils are physically able to write and meet all of the statements except for being able to produce legible handwriting, they may be awarded the expected standard but cannot be awarded the ‘greater depth’ standard.’

So potentially handwriting can prevent a child being awarded the higher standard but having read the following expectations for ‘greater depth’, handwriting is likely to be the least of our worries…

 The pupil can:

  •  write for a range of purposes and audiences: managing shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures
  • selecting verb forms for meaning and effect
  • using the full range of punctuation taught at key stage 2, including colons and semi-colons to mark the boundary between independent clauses, mostly correctly.

MATHS

As reading, it is only the ‘expected standard’ that is published and, predictably, it is the higher expectation that jumps out straight away; to achieve the expected standard requires many concepts which I have memories of being taught at secondary school.  As reading, having a narrower focus helps to sharpen the mind and, as reading, ultimately the test trumps Teacher Assessment.

This area was the least discussed, possibly because it was the last one we got to and we all were running out of steam but more probably because there was less controversy. The expectations mirror what is in the curriculum and the real pressure is about trying to ensure that children will be prepared to do well on the challenge of the new arithmetic and reasoning papers which cannot be achieved by test preparation alone and will require on a teaching approach across school which develops a deeper approach once the basics are mastered.

Key Points from Today

  1.  The bar has been raised – repeating what may have ‘worked’ in the past, will not bring success in the future.
  2. This demand for higher expectations in Year 6 must be shared with teachers across school. Without ensuring that the foundations for these higher outcomes are in place throughout school, success in Year 6 will be limited.
  3. Until the exemplification materials are published in January, any standardisation or moderation is unlikely to be effective as many of the statements are ambiguous and require examples to illustrate what is expected.
  4. We are now in ‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ – A key point to note is that ALL of the expectations need to be met for a judgement in that stage.

To finish the day, a familiar discussion ensued which questioned all the announcements and rumours about changes to floor standards, combined results and progress measures for next year. Will the Government change the pass mark to ensure that standards don’t appear to drop in these transition years; will they keep the bar high and take a hit knowing that they have four more years left in power so they will have time to show an improvement? Honestly – I couldn’t care less. The politicians will do what the politicians do and the good schools will do what the good schools always do: keep working hard to give children the skills they need to succeed in the future.

I’m back off to school to control the controllables and set up a semi-colon blog.

TR

2 thoughts on “‘Life Beyond Best Fit’ & Why I won’t lose sleep over what the DfE does next…”

  1. Really useful article.
    I think on the matter of the tests in March, that only applies to KS1 tests. The KS2 tests can be standardised in the usual way because they’ll all be submitted. KS1 tests are not centrally collected, so they need a sample set to be able to set thresholds.

    1. Thanks for clarifying Michael. I thought it was odd! So many announcements and rumours coming as the year is progressing. Thanks for all your posts over the last year on assessment. I’ve found your blogs really helpful.

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