Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Minimum level?

Last week in The Independent there was a report about children from poor backgrounds not doing very well in the National Tests at the end of Key Stage 2 (the so-called SATs). I have to complain about at least two things in this article.

First, children who do not reach level 4 in the English and maths tests are described as being unable to 'read, write and add up'. I've read this before in newspaper commentary on the national test results. It's such an inaccurate statement, I really don't know how they get away with it.

As far as the maths tests go, a child is very unlikely to get level 3 if they cannot add up! In fact, adding up is one of the mathematical skills they are most likely to have. A typical level 3 question in the non-calculator paper in an end-of-KS2 maths test would be:

Calculate 67 + 257 + 323

To get level 3 the child is going to have to get most questions at this level of difficulty right.

My second complaint is about the way in which achievement at level 4 is now being described. From the start level 4 in any subject was intended to be the average level for children at the end of Year 6. The levels are very broad in their coverage, so a reasonable expectation might be that 60% get level 4, 20% do better than this and 20% fall short of this.

But then we had the gradual change in commentaries on test results from describing level 4 as the average level to referring to it as the expected level. But now – have you noticed? – they have started referring to it as the minimum level. This is an abuse of language and assessment principles that really should not be tolerated. We cannot label a child at level 3 as having failed to achieve the minimum standards required.

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