Sats test scoring angers school head teachers

School test It is two years since a boycott of the Sats tests in England by some heads and teachers

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Head teachers in England have criticised arrangements for scoring this year's Sats tests taken by 11-year-olds.

The National Association of Head Teachers says this year's primary school league tables will be based on "a flawed statistical model".

The government says this year's results will be robust but are only an interim arrangement ahead of wider changes.

It is changing the Sats system after a review by Lord Bew.

Last week, 10- and 11-year-olds in England took Sats papers in English and maths, the results of which are used to compile the primary school league tables.

For the first time, the writing element of the English paper is being assessed by teachers throughout the year - and not just on the basis of a standard test.

This was a change recommended by Lord Bew and supported by teachers and heads.

The government has just announced the details of how the English Sats will be scored for this year and published guidance on this.

In the past, parents have been given an overall grade - or level - for their children's English Sats. The national target is for children to reach Level Four.

But this year, because of the changes coming in, parents will be given separate ratings for their child's written work and their ability in reading, but not an overall grade combing the two scores.

They will be given these ratings by schools in July.

'Disappointing'

What head teachers are unhappy about is that for this year's league tables, due later in the year, the government will add together the two scores to give an overall grade for a child.

In essence, they say it is not statistically sound to do this because one score will be based on something that has been measured precisely (the reading test) and something that has been assessed "qualitatively" - the written work done throughout the year.

Kathryn James, director of policy for the NAHT, said: "To say that the NAHT is concerned and disappointed with the education department's guidance on how the overall English score will be calculated this year is something of an understatement.

"We believe this guidance is built on a flawed statistical model which we have flagged up to the government. It is also disappointing that it has taken the department almost a year to produce its guidance, despite reminders from the NAHT."

Many of the association's heads joined teachers in a boycott of the Sats tests two years ago, complaining that they were an unreliable indicator of children's performance and that the league tables damaged learning by encouraging teachers to follow a narrow curriculum by "teaching to the test".

On coming to power, the coalition government commissioned a review of the tests by Lord Bew, and last year agreed to bring in his recommendations.

These included greater use of teacher assessment and the introduction of a new distinct test of spelling and grammar which is being piloted this year.

The changes should be in place for next year.

'Useful information'

The government says the method being used to compile this year's league tables is the best that can be achieved and is an interim measure.

It says the methodology will go through "a further quality assurance process" once the test results have been published in July and before the publication of national results and school performance tables.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said schools were being given guidance and factsheets to help them explain the changes to parents.

He said: "We asked Lord Bew to review the Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability system and make recommendations on how it could be improved, particularly in light of the concerns of head teachers and teachers. We remain absolutely committed to taking those recommendations forward.

"An overall English result has been part of the school level accountability system for many years and Lord Bew underlined its importance.

"For this year's interim assessment arrangements, we are using the most appropriate methodology available to calculate an overall English result. Parents will receive separate reading and writing results for their child so they have the most useful information."

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