We have just learnt that the government has abandoned baseline testing for 4 year olds. This was to have served as the starting line for “holding primary schools to account”.
The plan was a mess from the start, and showed just how remote the politicians and their officials were from children and teachers. The conditions they set down are almost impossible to apply to children this young. For example, each item had to be scored yes or no, though most of the time the honest answer is ‘partly’, ‘she didn’t feel like it today’, ‘if the conditions are right’, ‘with adult support’ or ‘he just doesn’t understand the question’.
Tasks designed to assess children who had been taught to read were being used on children before being taught. The tests culminated in a single score for each child – a label at the age of 4!
Children were placed in a rank order according to their score, implying fixed ability and potential. This was probably the most pernicious part of the procedure, since teachers would be tempted to regard many children as lacking in ability or potential and teach them accordingly. The baseline tests would scar children for life.
Testing had to take place in the first six weeks of Reception, disrupting a vital settling-in period.
Most absurd of all, no allowance could be made for a child’s age, despite the rapid development which take place between a child’s fourth and fifth birthdays.
New forms of cooperation between unions, researchers and early education groups
A determined and well-organised campaign has been run for over a year uniting the NUT and ATL with early years / nursery organisations. The Reclaiming Schools network has provided sustained support through data analysis, learning theory and critical interpretation of documents. The test providers were pursued for data for over six months, including a Freedom of Information demand. In February, we helped organise a seminar at Newman University involving five research teams, the various early years associations, and 12 leading NUT campaigners from around England including two national vice-presidents.
One of our blog posts attracted over 10,000 readers. Many parents were outraged to find that their 4-year-olds were being judged on the basis of questions such as:
Can you say this word without the p: parrot. [Correct answer: arrot.]
Pretend you are a robot. Say pin. [Correct answer: p i n]
A key issue was the inability of the test providers to demonstrate that their tests had ‘predictive validity’. Even the most experienced was shown to make false predictions for 6 out of 10 children, and two organisations had no evidence linking their baseline scores with later outcomes. It is shocking that the government department had accepted such bids!
Yet these tests surrounded false predictions with the aura of ‘science’. The practice in many schools of dividing children up into different tables on the basis of ‘ability’ would have been reinforced by these baseline tests.
Challenging the accountability machine
The baseline tests have bit the dust. In the end the Department for Education was simply unable to show enough consistency between scores from the three different organisations, let alone any relationship with future outcomes.
We should celebrate this victory and use it as a launching pad for campaigning against the other ridiculous tests in primary schools.
Phonics: Year 1 children are busy practicing nonsense words in order to pass this test. Results relate poorly to success in real reading. Schools are compelled to inform parents that their children have failed, even though many are simply younger or less developed members of the class and just need more time and less pressure.
KS1 SATs: The government are replacing assessment of Year 2 children by their teachers with formal testing. KS1 SATs can tell us little of value: Education Datalab have shown how poorly KS1 scores relate to later outcomes.
KS2 SATs: The requirement for teachers to produce copious evidence of writing is causing massive workload problems. The grammar test requires 11 year olds to answer questions once used in the 1970s O-level exam for 16 year olds.
There is a growing understanding that the entire accountability machine is lowering standards because children are wasting time practising for the next hurdle rather than on learning which really helps them develop their minds.
You can trace through the whole series by clicking on the following links: