DfE seeks bidders to run comparative judgment 'alternative' to KS2 writing test

The government is inviting companies specialising in comparative judgment assessment models to design an alternative to the current key stage 2 writing test.

The Standards and Testing Agency is “interested in speaking to comparative judgment suppliers” about creating a “new approach” to statutory teacher assessments of writing, the government’s website states.

The contract, which is still in the “open early engagement” stage, comes after research by Ofqual this week showed comparative judgment is as reliable as double-marking and significantly quicker to carry out.

Comparative judgment is an alternative to traditional marking methods, in which assessors judge two pieces of writing against one another until all are ranked and then graded using an algorithm. It has been hailed by proponents as a possible solution to the teacher workload issue.

Ofqual already said in response to a primary assessment consultation last year that comparative judgment could be piloted as an alternative to teacher assessment – a position backed by the Department for Education.

Currently, staff use government-set teacher assessment frameworks to grade their pupils’ English writing  at the end of primary school.

Government guidance on the frameworks states “teachers should make a judgment against the frameworks based on their own assessments of pupils’ work”.

However the arrangement has not had a happy history. Last year Ofsted’s deputy director for schools Joanna Hall told MPs the government should consider removing teacher assessment “entirely” from writing in primary schools following variability in the assessments and anomalies in results.

It also comes after figures for SATs revealed a rise in the number of results being suppressed because of suspected maladministration and cheating.

But in the consultation response, Ofqual had also warned “any review of alternative approaches [to writing], including comparative judgment, should identify threats to validity”.

Proponents of comparative judgment say it allows teachers to make a “more holistic” assessment of which of two pieces of writing is better quality, rather than trying to stick to a mark scheme that can encourage “teaching to the test”.

To minimise validity problems, Ofqual said controls must be clearly set around what tasks comparative judgment is applied to, the environment in which work is produced and exactly how it will be judged.

This week the exam watchdog also warned further research would be needed before comparative judgment was used to grade tens of thousands of papers, to find out the point at which the method “starts to deteriorate and the whole model fit starts to collapse”.

However Daisy Christodoulou, director of education at No More Marking, one of the most well-known organisations promoting comparative judgment in schools, said this week’s research has shown comparative judgment is “amazingly reliable and efficient” and deserves further exploration.

Interested suppliers can find details on the government’s website and must apply by January 11 next year.