What can we take away from the KS2 national tests results?

A guest blog post by Deputy Head Michael Tidd

As schools pore over their Key Stage 2 test results, it’s inevitable that the first step will be to look inwardly – to see how Ellie did in maths, or whether Dylan met that 100 mark in reading. But soon enough our attention will be drawn to the wider picture. So what messages are there to take from yesterday’s results?

Thresholds up, outcomes down

The most obvious change is in the proportion of children reaching the expected standard, compared to those who used to achieve Level 4. Nicky Morgan has gone to some lengths to tell us that the results aren’t comparable, but the reality is that if pupils this year achieved in line with those last year, then it is the tests alone that have meant that a third of pupils have found themselves falling below at least one of the new standards.

Part of this can be put down to the more challenging tests, part will be because of the higher thresholds. This double increase in difficulty means that while it was possible to reach a Level 4 in maths with fewer than half marks last year, a child now requires 55% to achieve the new higher standard on the harder test.

The biggest drop for schools seems to have been in reading, which has gone from being the highest-scoring subject in the set, to the lowest. By contrast – and despite teachers concerns to the contrary – writing has ended up with the highest set of results, raising some questions about the effectiveness of the Teacher Assessment and moderation processes.

Floor standards & progress

Perhaps the most significant shift is in the combined percentage for pupils achieving the expected standard in all three core areas. Nationally just 53% of pupils achieved the expected standard in all three areas.

The combined score is of particular concern to many school leaders, not least because it forms the attainment part of the new floor standard. There is some comfort here, though. The fact that only 53% of pupils nationally have met the combined standard means that the proportion of schools meeting the floor standard on attainment will likely be much lower. One quick poll on Twitter suggested it could be as low as 30%. That means that it’s the progress measure that will be more important when it comes to floor standards. Nicky Morgan has been clear that a maximum of 6% of schools will fall below the floor, so it’s too soon for school leaders to panic.
Unfortunately, though, the progress measures won’t be out until September, so there’s a tense wait ahead for some.

More Able pupils

Plenty of teachers seemed surprised this morning to discover that there was no indication of a threshold for ‘Greater Depth’. This is perhaps because the system is so confusing that even we can’t fully understand it. In truth, there is no threshold. One of the advantages of moving away from levels is that we can remove some of the artificial boundaries. There would be no sense in saying that 115 points represented substantially better achievement than 114 points. Parents will see the scores, and can compare to the national range.

Later in the year we will be provided with a new measure for school accountability, which includes the proportion of children achieving a high score in all three subjects. That needn’t be reported to individual children, but will be published as an overall figure on performance tables and school websites.

One particular area of interest for more able pupils is the scope of the top end of the scaled scores. It’s notable that to achieve a score of 120 in the maths tests, you would need to get a perfect score – 100% on all three tests. By contrast, in reading, a score of 44 or more (88%) was enough to warrant the very top score. It does raise the question of just how few pupils were able to achieve anything close to full marks on the reading test. Perhaps that’s a hint to how future tests might change?

Different papers

It’s too early to say anything substantial yet about the spread of marks, because national data is very broad, but schools will want to look at the balance of marks across arithmetic and spelling papers, compared to the main reasoning and grammar papers. Initial conversations online suggest that for many pupils, a great knowledge of arithmetic goes a long way to achieving the expected standard, with many children just nudging over the threshold despite much poorer reasoning results than on the arithmetic paper.

In grammar, punctuation and spelling, at first glance it seems that spelling may not have had quite so much of a significant impact on overall results as some feared. It’ll be well worth schools downloading the full data set from the DfE to look at how their children scored on each paper, to see what lessons we can learn for the forthcoming year.

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