Measuring performance of schools: progress or attainment?

Should a child’s PROGRESS or ATTAINMENT level be the main measure of a school’s success?  With UK Government policy increasing focus on progress (albeit secondary to attainment for now) and debate growing about a more wholesale shift, you can see why assessment of progress is one of the key new product areas showcased at BETT 2015 this year (along with robots – but more about these in another post!).

BETT2015 Arena Wall

Closing the gap and leading the way

In the US, No Child Left Behind (2001) has placed the emphasis on accountability for under-achievement and has led to the development of the Common Core State Standards. In both, measuring progress is a marker for the schools themselves and for the learners, and both are driving the interest in, and uptake of, progress testing more broadly.  But progress testing for subject areas, most notably, literacy and maths, has also been growing in the UK and New Zealand.

Progress testing increasing in UK schools

With the removal of National Curriculum levels, OFSTED now is also beginning to focus more on different types of assessment, including measuring progress.  But there is a more significant shift ahead.

Under Government plans announced last year, from 2016 primary schools will be held to account by two measures.  Firstly schools should ensure that 85% of 11 year olds attain level 4 in their SATs (currently the threshold is 65%).  If schools don’t meet this standard, they must report against an alternate measure tracking pupils’ progress.

A new report from CentreForum takes this further – Progress matters in Primary too, supported by Pearson UK, argues that the pupil progress should be the main measure reported in primary school league tables. The report argues that a progress measure encourages schools to focus on all children and that it also means the focus is on pupil performance in the context of their individual baseline, rather than benchmarking them against a single standard.

This has significant implications for early assessment, because if a school is to demonstrate that pupils are making progress, they need a baseline to measure against.  This will require an assessment of pupils soon after they arrive in reception classes.   We can expect some contention, as many feel the system is already bogged down with testing and assessment, and that this has the effect of narrowing the view of what successful teaching looks like.

Others however see the wider, positive benefits of progress testing which can feed into personalising learning, the formative teaching process and enhanced learner outcomes.

Progress tests proliferating at BETT 2015

UK primary schools will be encouraged to start using an approved assessment as early as September 2015.  Not surprisingly, the emergence of progress testing focusing on primary schools was very evident last week during our annual visit to BETT2015.  We saw more and more assessment products and courses offering in-built progress testing, and also school management systems that were placing greater emphasis on recording and communicating pupil progress in ways that teachers could easily interpret and act on.

CEMS’s Performance Indicators in Primary School baseline tests are well established formative assessments used to evaluate what a child knows and can do when they start school. This test informed the initial Government policy about introducing the formal baseline assessment.  One product that we liked at BETT was GL’s Reception Baseline Assessment, a tablet based face-to-face assessment carried out between a teachers and child with a real emphasis on fun and interaction.  ‏

Progress testing in subject areas is a little more established and we enjoyed looking at GL’s Progress in English; Hodder Education Assessment Plus, AQA’s Online Progress Tests.  Our favourite though are Renaissance Learning’s STAR Assessment products, especially the Accelerated Reader.  Combining computer-based testing with adaptive learning, measuring progress and linking this with genuinely developing a love of reading – what’s not to like?

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We have helped clients think about how to incorporate the assessment of progress in their products, looking especially at innovations around the world and in parallel subjects.  It’s a great opportunity for the expanding assessment market, but is it a great opportunity for our schools?  We agree with CentreForum and are watching with interest to see developments in the UK.  What do others think about how take-up will pan out here?

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