Memorandum submitted by Association for Achievement and Improvement
through Assessment (AAIA)

Executive summary

1. We believe the current testing system is limited in measurement of children's performance across the National Curriculum programmes of study.  In addition, because of the high stakes relating to judgement of school performance, there is pressure on teachers to teach to the test and spend much time on revision activities.   By allowing teachers to use tests to support their assessments of pupil performance and by extending the use of the contextual value added measures, there could be several advantages.  Firstly, teachers and learners can spend time analysing performance in the test to help overcome identified weaknesses and to build on strengths in future learning.  Secondly achievement across all areas of the programme of study would be measured.  Thirdly information about all children in the school could be used annually to provide information about school performance. Finally learning can be more personalised to meet the needs of all the children.

Post 16 we believe the recommendations within the Tomlinson Report should have been implemented in full and that it is not too late for this to happen.  This approach for older students would then build upon the ongoing assessment for learners in the earlier key stages.   


2. AAIA is an association of professionals who are interested in, and committed to, the use of assessment to improve learning and teaching.  Members, of whom there are approximately 300, work in schools, colleges and universities, for local authorities, the national strategies for school improvement and other national organisations, while some work as independent consultants.

The overall vision of the association is:
All learners are successful learners
All learning communities value effective assessment.

General Issues

3. Does a focus on national testing and assessment reduce the scope for creativity in the curriculum?

Evidence from members working in and with schools indicates that the national testing system does reduce creativity in the curriculum and that the overall time for teaching the core subjects does reduce the amount of time for the foundation subjects. This is supported by evidence from a range of other stakeholders and academic researchers. For example: 'How we assess impacts on how we learn' (Randy Bennet); outcomes of the research published by the Assessment Systems for the Future project funded by the Nuffield Foundation (set up by the Assessment Reform Group)


National Key Stage Tests
The current situation

4. How effective are the current Key Stage tests?

The current tests are limited because they cannot test all aspects of the national curriculum and provide only a snap shot of a learner's performance. For example, in English the writing test covers two aspects from a much wider range of genre; in addition there is no assessment of key skills such as speaking and listening and very limited assessment of the investigative and exploratory skills essential in science and mathematics.

5. Do they adequately reflect levels of performance of children and schools, and changes in performance over time?

This question perhaps sums up the dilemma of national testing - is it a regime to judge the performance of children or schools?  Certainly the results do not adequately reflect the levels of children's performance.  This is better achieved by teacher assessment backed by a robust moderation system.  Similarly with school performance, test results do not tell the whole story.


6. Do they provide assessment for learning (enabling teachers to concentrate on areas of a pupil's performance that needs improvement)?

No.  Answers to test questions can be used, by teachers and learners, to identify gaps in learning, review curriculum provision and  help identify how further improvements in learning can be made.  However teachers and learners have to spend time analysing answers and taking appropriate actions for improvement and invariably, because of the timing of the national tests, children move on before these processes can be undertaken.


7. Does testing help to improve levels of attainment?

In themselves no, however by analysing answers to test questions as indicated above there is evidence that learning can be improved.

Are they effective in holding schools accountable for their performance?

Cohorts of pupils change and therefore using raw scores from tests does not provide a full enough picture of the situation.  The information from tests is merely one piece of a much wider picture.

8. How effective are performance measures such as value-added scores for schools?

The newly introduced contextual value-added scores are a big improvement but as indicated in the paragraph above, these scores are based upon only a narrow part of the overall learning programme.

9. Are league tables based on test results an accurate reflection of how well schools are performing?

No.  There is much more to schooling and schools than test results.

10. To what extent is there 'teaching to the test'?

Evidence indicates this is very much the case; merely walk around any bookshop and the amount of material for revision/past papers etc. indicates how this is big business. Also see previous comments regarding the outcomes of research (paragraph 3).

11. How much of a factor is 'hot-housing' in the fall-off in pupil performance from Year 6 to Year 7?

Evidence from research indicates that when children are re-tested a few weeks after taking a test their performance is considerably lower the second time.  Rote learning is not retained learning.  This in part explains the Year 7 drop.  However in Year 7 the new key stage has fresh material that needs to be learned, yet the overall Level Descriptors remain the same.  There is likely therefore to be at best a period of plateau in learning.


12. Does the importance given to test results mean that teaching generally is narrowly focused?

Yes, because the performance tables and judgements about schools are high, teaching will focus on trying to improve the areas to be tested.

13. What role does assessment by teachers have in teaching and learning?

It is vital.  Assessment is used to plan the next steps that are appropriate for the needs of the learner.  Assessment needs to be used by the learner, supported by their teacher, to identify the areas to be improved and the action and time necessary to bring this about.


The future

14. Should the system of national tests be changed?

Yes, we believe there needs to be a move away from the high stakes end of key stage testing and that testing is best used to support teacher assessment. In this way children's performance in tests can be used diagnostically to help both teacher and learner make further improvements. The assessment model currently being used in key stage 1, where teachers establish their teacher assessments in mathematics, reading and writing over a period of time in a range of contexts supported by task and test material provided by QCA, is proving to be a more effective way to make accurate end of key stage assessment. Similarly, in the Foundation Stage where there is no testing, assessments (mainly observational) across all six areas of learning are made by staff throughout the year. These enable teachers to make an accurate judgement of their children's achievement at the end of the reception. 

15. If so, should the tests be modified or abolished?

We believe the tests should be modified to meet the individual levels of the national curriculum.  In this way when a teacher assesses a child or group of children to be at a certain level there is a test that can be used to support/verify that decision.  From teacher assessment and analysis of performance in the test, the next steps in teaching and learning can then be planned.  Thus personalised learning is likely to be achieved.

16. The Secretary of State has suggested that there should be a move to more personalised assessment to measure how a pupil's level of attainment has improved over time. Pilot areas to test proposals have just been announced. Would the introduction of this kind of assessment make it possible to make an overall judgement on a school's performance?

Yes.  The measure of each child's progress over any given time can be measured and then, by aggregation of performance of all children in each cohort, school performance can be measured.  Indeed, using this method, whole school performance can be measured each year and not merely the performance of one or two cohorts.

17. Would it be possible to make meaningful comparisons between different schools?

Yes, by extending the use of contextual value added measures. Ensuring effective transition systems are in place between schools is also needed.


18. What effect would testing at different times have on pupils and schools? Would it create pressure on schools to push pupils to take tests earlier?

It should not if the tests are seen as supporting teacher assessment and are used diagnostically to help identify next steps in teaching and learning.

19. If Key Stage tests remain, what should they be seeking to measure?

We do not believe they should remain because they are likely to always provide a narrow measure of the national curriculum. Only teacher assessment, supported by an effective moderation process, can provide a measure of progress across the whole programmes of study.

20. If, for example, performance at Level 4 is the average level of attainment for an eleven year old, what proportion of children is it reasonable to expect to achieve at or above that level?

It is wrong to use the word average because statistically 50% of children would be above average and 50% below. It is better that Level 4 is regarded as the expected level for an eleven year old rather than the average.

21. How are the different levels of performance expected at each age decided on? Is there broad agreement that the levels are appropriate and meaningful?

The levels were decided at the inception of the national curriculum and by and large the KS1 expectation of Level 2 and the KS2 expectation of Level 4 are acceptable.  What is restrictive at present is that at KS1, KS2 and KS3 there is a limit to the level that an able child can attain in the national tests.  This is, Level 3 for a seven-year-old, Level 5 for an eleven-year-old and Level 7 in English for a fourteen-year-old.  If tests were used to support teacher assessment the needs of more able children could be met more appropriately.


Testing and assessment at 16 and after

22.  Is the testing and assessment in "summative" tests (for example, GCSE, AS, A2) fit for purpose?

Overall we believe the suggestions in the Tomlinson Report should be implemented in full.  It is clear that young learners in England need to be able to continue to study a broad curriculum for as long as possible and that they should also be able to demonstrate achievement in key skills.  The number of schools that are engaging with the International Baccalaureate reflects this.


June 2007