Government-funded schools in England can choose from four accredited reception baseline assessments to measure progress as part of the new primary accountability framework. Schools choosing to use a reception baseline assessment can demonstrate the levels of progress children have made from the baseline measure. The DfE is continuing to provide funding for schools using any of the four accredited assessment providers for the academic year 2016 -2017.
How to choose a baseline assessment?
A fundamental step in evaluating which assessment you choose is to be clear about the information you want from it.
An assessment must be able to measure progress. Children make the most progress in learning in their first year of school. This lays a vital foundation for learning throughout the rest of a child’s education. We want to ensure we are giving each child the best chance of succeeding through education. A baseline assessment is a key element in ensuring we are providing children with this excellent start. A good baseline should measure progress across a fairly long time period. This information can only be gathered reliably by an assessment that has certain qualities.
Check that your preferred scheme meets these benchmarks:
- Representative of the group you are comparing against
The assessment needs to be delivered to enough pupils in enough schools to be representative of the group you are comparing against. In the case of the current policy, you would want the assessment to give you information that is representative of reception classes across England. Check the numbers of children in England in state schools who have been included in the assessment provider’s standardisation sample.
- Standardised and fair assessment experience for all children
A good baseline needs to collect information from a lot of pupils and schools. The assessment has to be delivered to all those pupils in the same way. This ensures the assessment minimises variations between pupils that are related to something other than their knowledge or skills.
Schemes which rely too heavily on the teacher asking their own questions or noting their observations may not meet this need. This might be particularly challenging in schools with more than one class in-take. In this setting it is necessary for more than one education professional to make these judgements and how these questions or observations are made will likely differ between individuals. If you can back professional judgement and observation with an independent fair assessment which is delivered in the same way to all children then this will add another dimension and level of rigour to your assessment practice.
- Reliable assessment
The assessment must gather information in a reliable way. This means that you would get very similar results if you repeated the exercise two days or a week later or the same results if a different teacher carried out the assessment. You can ask providers for their “test/retest” statistics. (These are usually provided as a correlation score on a scale of 0 – 1 and you would be looking for a figure of around 0.7 or above.)
- Indicative of later progress
The assessment must be focussed on the required outcomes. If that is reading and maths, the assessment needs to be a good baseline measure of later reading and maths outcomes. For example, asking children questions about their understanding of reading at an early age has been found to be closely related to their reading skills later on and that makes it a good assessment task. You can ask for information about a scheme’s “predictive validity”. (Again, this is measured using a correlation and you would expect to see a figure of at least 0.6 between the baseline measure and a related later assessment – such as Key Stage 2 reading or maths.)
Baseline assessments can be incredibly valuable when used formatively, giving educators an early indicator of what each child knows and can do when they first enter school. To get the best tool for the job, you should consider these points:
- How detailed is the assessment?
Be sure what the scheme is assessing. If you want to use it formatively, the information you get from the assessment needs to be fine-grained enough to allow you to build a detailed picture of what each child knows and can do.
- How much time does it take?
Balance the content of the assessment with the time it takes to assess each child. It has to be a manageable process. A short computer-delivered assessment can give you plenty of information to work with formatively and with confidence. A more involved and time-consuming assessment might give you rich and detailed information but could you get this in other ways and is this a valuable investment of your time?
- What part will it play in your decision making
Be aware that assessment can only provide some of the information which you need to build an approach for each child in your care. Skilled and careful triangulation of information from a range of sources will provide the best platform for success in the classroom. Choose an assessment system that compliments the data you already have. This means you can evaluate the assessment data with data from a range of other sources such as teacher observation, information about home-background, previous educational experience and attitudes to school and learning.
- Does it allow you to measure progress at frequent intervals?
Ideally, look for a scheme which allows for repeated assessment as the children move through school. This allows you to celebrate the progress each child makes, identify trends over time, evaluate the effectiveness of your classroom practices and monitor progress towards key outcomes. Additionally it can act us an early warning system for approaches which are not effective with particular groups and where children are struggling when compared with similar children in other settings.