Schools have now been closed for a number of weeks and it’s hard to predict exactly when we will see their doors re-open to all pupils. In light of this, we’ve been talking to teachers about the possible transition back to school from June through to September and how they'll evaluate their pupils' knowledge and understanding.
Conversations with our partner schools have highlighted the enormous amount of excellent and creative work that has taken place to ensure the best possible experience for pupils. We know, however, that children will have had a variety of experiences over this period of lockdown and it’s likely that the retention of topics and learning of new objectives and skills is going to be variable.
When pupils return to school the most important focus will be settling them back into a school setting, and when the time is right getting an independent measure of how much children have retained and learned over the period will be vital to planning the most appropriate teaching and interventions. With this in mind, we spoke to around 50 of our partner schools and heard a whole range of approaches including using previous terms’ papers (both Spring and Summer). Here are a few of the highlights.
Publishing Director, RS Assessment from Hodder Education
Using Summer term tests as a baseline
In the current scenario, decisions about September 2020 are difficult because we don’t yet have concrete information about when we will be back and in what capacity. If we are back in September, and all of the children are in school, our plan will be to baseline children using the NTS Assessments Summer tests that we missed. We have already made a list of learning objectives that have not been covered in the Summer term and the information from this baseline will feed into this and help us to plan appropriately for the children on their return.
This will need further thinking about, depending on how and when schools return. Personally, I am hoping that this period of time will have shown us that results and scores are not the most important thing about a child's education, and I would hope that there would be a shift from focusing on impersonal headline data to actually knowing what a child can and can't do. This means that the question level analysis of the tests will be really valuable and make them more worthwhile, rather than just focusing on high-level scores and data.
Assessment Coordinator, Melbury Primary School
Using Summer term tests to inform teaching and learning
I’m sure that all educational establishments would agree that having some form of thorough, appropriate and robust baseline assessments, can provide a useful picture of what a child knows or can do at a certain point in time, as well as noting gaps in individual and specific groups’ learning. Add into the equation an opportunity to look at standardised scores and you are also able to compare pupils’ knowledge and skills within your school to other children around the country.
A good baseline assessment tool gives schools, classes, pupils and teachers the best starting point to a year or term. Without this it is far from easy to measure progress well. In our school’s assessment timetable, all classes from Year 1 to Year 6 are tested in reading, maths and grammar at the end of each term. All teachers and pupils are open and honest about the testing. There is little pressure on staff or pupils and results are shared where necessary within the school community. Due to the fact that we can then show progress across terms and across years of work we have an ideal opportunity to reward success of all whilst working on an individual’s weaknesses and also strengths.
Once we are able to get pupils back into our setting our priority will be to find out exactly where each pupil is after this unprecedented time with Covid-19. As a school our staff have been excellent, creating home learning grids, pointing children and parents in the direction of outstanding online learning. That said, with the best will in the world, online learning cannot stand up to the rigours, questioning and probing of experienced teachers who are well versed in their year groups’ curriculum knowledge.
We have already conducted and analysed our PiRA, PUMA and GAPS tests for Autumn and Spring terms and have analysed data to look at progress and potential gaps in learning. Once pupils have returned to the classrooms, been welcomed and settled back into school life we will, before the end of term, be administering the Summer tests. These will allow us to see the progress, positive or negative of each child in school. It will allow us to work on specific focus and intervention groups, whilst still being able to academically push all pupils.
I do consider our school to be extremely fortunate to have been using the tests for a number of years now. We have a whole host of data that allows us to ensure we are always pushing, cajoling and enticing our pupils towards the success of education. It’s cool to learn!
The world can be a bleak place at this moment. Our job is to ensure all pupils achieve the very best that they can. Through appropriate and robust baseline assessments that are reliable and valid, like RS Assessment’s PiRA, PUMA and GAPS, we believe we have just that.
Deputy Headteacher, The Redeemer CE Primary School, Blackburn
Using reading ages as a baseline
I think our priority for the first half term (whenever that is) will be settling the children back in, making informal assessments about their levels of achievement and how things might have changed for them since we saw them last. It really is hard to say how the landscape will look when we start re-opening. Also, it is unlikely that we will have all the children in at once. Even if we have whole year groups back, we expect attendance to be very patchy for a while. A time for formally assessing where we are (re)starting from will definitely come, though, and we will look to use some of the RS Assessment materials to give us that reliable baseline. We feel that reading ages from PiRA tests will be particularly useful, and being able to standardise pupils’ scores against where we would have hoped they would be if all of this hadn't happened will be useful for considering which groups of pupils have suffered most from the lack of teaching, and where we need to focus our energies in helping them to catch up.
Co-Head Teacher, Burley St Matthias CE Primary School
Using Spring and Summer test results to influence teaching and learning
If baseline assessments are carried out with the needs of the children at the forefront, I think they can provide a useful and clear picture of a starting point for individual children and for the whole cohort. Children having time to settle into school life needs to be taken into account, as well as doing a baseline assessment, before we begin to teach so that we gain a true and accurate picture.
Reliable baseline assessments are needed for a secure starting point to show progress across the year and to compare progress at the end of the year. Without a starting point, it is impossible to measure progress well. The information given from baseline assessments can support and inform teaching and learning and help us to make the necessary changes to the provision that we are giving our children.
In my opinion, a formal baseline works best when used alongside our own school’s informal assessments. In Foundation Stage this might look like the use of real resources in the environment, during the child's play. In Key stage 1, this might be building on an experience or piece of learning that allows that child to show something that sits on a baseline. In Key Stage 2, it could be ensuring that the pupils have manipulatives that can allow them to express a concept orally rather than just a textbook response. This helps to capture a true understanding of what a pupil knows and is capable of.
Coming back to school following a time away will naturally mean that our pupils will be at differing points in their learning journey. The use of PiRA and PUMA tests will therefore be needed to secure judgements for each individual, especially in terms of gaps to fill. It will support the development of a personal approach, where the learning needs will create a more dynamic curriculum as it reacts to the needs of all. The use of the Spring PiRA and PUMA tests, followed by the Summer tests, will provide a strong platform for what our pupils know and where they need further support. From this, we can specifically focus on the learning needs.
Headteacher, Holy Cross Catholic Primary School
Using baselining and gap analysis to assist intervention
In our school, a comprehensive baseline assessment is an invaluable tool to quickly identify pupil needs and enable class teachers to tailor learning effectively. Having many pupils arriving mid-term, the opportunity to quickly assess and gather information is invaluable, as it quickly ensures that pupils are confident and comfortable within the learning taking place around them. However, baseline assessments are also a useful tool in which to start each academic year, in order for the teacher to gather a clear picture of their class as a whole. A good baseline needs to be accessible, both for the teacher who administers the assessment, and for the pupil undertaking the test. We need tests to be the right length so that they can enable effective data collection without impeding quality teaching and learning. We find that we have the most confidence in a baseline that can provide us both with a gap analysis, to assist our programme of intervention, as well as a standardised score, which quickly gives us information about the child’s position academically upon arrival.
Headteacher, Griffydam Primary School
Thanks to all the teachers who contributed to this blog, we hope you find it useful when making your own back to school plans. You can find out more about PiRA, PUMA and NTS Assessments and how they can help you to evaluate gaps in your pupils' understanding by clicking on the links. We've also put together some FAQs about baselining.