Tuesday, 4 August 2009

What do the test results tell us today?

Today's Key Stage 2 test results may not tell us an awful lot. Despite the headlines, the fall in English - one point - is neither here nor there, and could disappear after the final results are published, though it may signal lost momentum, as the pressure has eased on primary schools.

Also, as Sarah Ebner points out, it is worth recognising that a level 3 is not the equivalent of illiteracy; when David Blunkett decided that level 4 should be the expected standard, he did so in the knowledge that it was conceived as the average. The truth is the tests show no significant change from last year; that is in itself of concern.

But there are four things we should take from the tests. The first is how important it is to have independent evidence of how pupils are doing in each school in the 3Rs, and how far pupils have come since 1995 with the tests. The second is that writing remains weaker than reading probably because schools don't do enough to encourage creativity alongside the grammar (though do remember that grammar and punctuation had disappeared for too long), and haven't yet found a good way to enthuse boys.

And the third is that there are plenty of schools in disadvantaged areas that get better than average results. Their secrets should be kitemarked and shared in place of the now defunct national strategies. Their heads should also do more mentoring of their weaker colleagues. Finally, the weakening of level 5 results since 2007 suggests that not enough is being done to stretch bright pupils. In a significant minority of schools, this should be the expected result for most pupils rather than level 4.

But before we indulge in a bout of collective government-bashing and educational dystopianism, let us not forget that in the first year of the tests in 1995, just 49% of pupils gained a level 4 in English and 45% did so in Maths (See Table 1 and Chart A). 80% did so in English and 79% in Maths this year. Had the 1995 results been replicated today, 178,870 fewer pupils would have gained a level 4 in English and 196,180 fewer pupils would have done so in Maths.

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