Assessment in the new curriculum: Vital signs ...and learning to live without levels

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The end of levels is only the beginning. The whole assessment and accountability system is changing, and school leaders at every level need to be prepared. Sue Hackman provides an overview, from testing of four year olds to the new GCSE grading system and everything in between.

The new curriculum shifts us from a curriculum focused largely on processes and skills to one based on hard-edged knowledge. Where in the past we have prioritised the tracking of an individual’s progress, the new curriculum pushes us to focus on the acquisition of each year’s prescribed topics.

You can already see examples of this new, crisper approach in two places – the phonics check in Year 1 and the spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) test in Year 6. Soon you will be able to see it in the same test for Year 2, and possibly more in the revised SATs from 2016. They are absolute tests of knowledge, each question with an indisputable correct answer.

In the past, we synthesised pupils’ strengths and weaknesses to arrive at a fair ‘best-fit’ judgement – in future, we will tot up the sum of their knowledge. In writing, for example – the most notorious of assessment challenges – we juggled the complexities of composition, grammar, spelling and expression to arrive at a single mark, whereas now we have the absolute measure of whether, for example, they can underline the adverb in someone else’s sentence.

This approach is easier and technically more ‘reliable’, but it is also more atomised and less informative about how well pupils use their knowledge.

The bar is rising
Accountability will continue to depend largely on English and maths results, except at the end of secondary school, where an average point score will be used across eight subjects (ten if you acknowledge the double-weighting of English and maths).

Primary schools should note that the new system will…



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