1. Question level analysis
A key reason for testing is to find out what pupils do and don’t know. Question level analysis will reveal the things we thought pupils could do but struggle with, as well as the things we thought they couldn’t do but in fact can do rather well. Tests, therefore, have both a formative and summative purpose.
2. National benchmarking of attainment
Schools want to identify if pupils are below, at, or above ‘age-related’ expectations for the purposes of reporting to parents, governors and others. However, such definitions are often highly subjective when based on teacher assessment alone. Standardised tests provide greater reliability by benchmarking pupils’ attainment against a large, representative national sample. This makes them a highly-valuable tool for informing teacher assessment.
3. Measuring progress
Measuring progress is often problematic, and many schools have resorted to some form of level in an attempt to solve this problem. Standardised tests offer a better, more reliable method. We can track changes in the standardised scores or percentile rank of pupils, groups and cohorts - recognising that maintaining a similar score is indicative of good progress, and that small fluctuations are to be expected. We can also establish attainment bands based on standard deviations, and use these for reporting progress in broad terms via summary tables and progress matrices. RS Assessment from Hodder Education have their own progress measure in the form of the Hodder Scale, derived from the PiRA, PUMA and GAPS tests. This enables teachers to define an ‘expected’ progress path, predict where pupils may go next, and therefore state whether or not they are ‘on track’. Standardised tests offer various options for measuring progress, all of which are more robust than the levels-style measures that endure in many schools.
4. Comparing standards between schools
It can be difficult to compare standards between schools, due to the variability and subjectivity of teacher assessment, and this presents a particular problem for MATs. Standardised tests offer the most effective solution to this problem, because pupils are taking the same test at approximately the same time - much like the SATS.
5. Tracking attainment gaps
Much like the above issue, it can be difficult to compare attainment of groups of pupils using teacher assessment. Standardised test scores can be averaged to track and monitor attainment gaps between these key groups thus giving schools much needed insight in advance of published data.
6. Test practice
An important aspect for many schools, but we must not lose sight of the primary purpose: that a test is about checking pupils’ understanding.
It has to be recognised that many have concerns about standardised assessment, but if the tests are low-stakes, high-value, and do not significantly impact on workload of teachers, they can provide numerous benefits and are certainly worth considering.
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