Saturday, 1 February 2014

Baseline assessment in reception: five reasons why it's a bad idea

The Guardian reports today that four-year olds will face compulsory tests when they start reception. There are so many reasons why this is wrong ... but here are my top five:

1. The results will be unreliable.
Testing young children to assess their ability is notoriously difficult. For a start, whilst there will be a standard test, some children (born in August) will have just turned four, and others (born in September) will be five. 11 months of development are very significant when you are five-years old.

Secondly, even well-trialled tests like the British Ability Scales have problems with reliability and robustness. For example, the BAS tests have been found to be unreliable in respect of children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and children learning English as an additional language (Hill, 2005).

2. Testing policy is erratic.
In theory, assessments could help educationalists and policy-makers intervene to identify promising practice, and could help teachers to evaluate how well their curriculum serves the different children who come into their schools. However, this would only be possible in a stable environment. Instead, in England there has been a high amount of instability: the new Early Years Foundation Stage Profile assessment (for children at the end of Reception) was first used nationally last summer; the phonics test for five and six-year olds was also made compulsory in 2013. Furthermore, the whole framework and curriculum guidance for young children (the Early Years Foundation Stage) was itself substantially revised in 2012. So teachers have been faced with constant change since 2012, and now another fundamental change looms.

3. Testing children is not the way to give them the best start to school
Starting school is a big step for children. Many children find it stressful at first to settle in and feel confident. Testing them just sets up another hurdle, and one which is likely to cause some children considerable distress. Additionally, because the children are dealing with so many new things when they start school, the tests will not show anything like their potential.

4. The tests will cost time and money which could be spent better elsewhere
94% of children have attended nursery in England from the age of three onwards. It is compulsory for early years providers to track the development of those children using the EYFS. So why test them? Not only will the tests be stressful for the children, they will create a mountain of work for teachers and they will cost lots of money, too - if children are to be tested individually, who will do that, and who will be teaching and looking after the rest of the class?

If the problem is that there are not proper arrangements for the transition of children from nursery to reception, why not address that problem rather than bring in yet another regime of testing?

5. The wellbeing of children in England should worry everyone
UNICEF has drawn attention to the poor level of wellbeing of children in the UK, including England, in both 2007 and 2011. 

In 2011, UNICEF commented that "Compared with 20 other OECD2 countries, including substantially poorer countries such as Poland and Greece, the UK came bottom on three out of six dimensions of well-being, and came bottom overall in the league table. Other indices of children's well-being have also found the UK to be doing badly."

Does subjecting every four-year old to a test when they start school seem like the best response to that?

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