New evidence suggests schools may ‘game’ reception baselines

Sixty per cent of respondents to a survey on the controversial baseline assessment for reception year pupils have been positive “to some extent” about its introduction.

The finding was revealed in a new research report published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), which was commissioned by the department for education.

But the report also said there was some evidence to suggest that schools may adopt a conscious “gaming” approach by carrying out assessments at the earliest opportunity.

A “gaming” approach could be harmful for learning “if teachers minimise learning opportunities at the start of reception in favour of concentrating on the administration of the assessment and on keeping scores low at baseline”.

According to the report, 27 per cent of schools asked said they would definitely schedule the reception baseline earlier than previous on-entry assessments, and a further 29 per cent might do it.

“This is an indication that some schools could be adopting ‘gaming’ strategies to maximising room for pupil progress,” the report read.

The baselines will be the only measure used to assess the progress of children from entry at age four and five to the end of key stage 2. The assessments are optional and schools can start using them from 2015/16.

If schools choose not to opt in, then according to the DfE they will only be held to account by pupils’ attainment at the end of primary school.

Although nearly a third (30 per cent) of  survey respondents were not in favour of the introduction of the reception baseline, almost all said they were going to implement it – with only ten per cent undecided about whether to do a reception baseline or not.

Survey respondents were almost evenly split about whether they understood the accountability measures. Forty eight per cent of respondents said they understood the new accountability measures very well. Just under half (49 per cent) said they only “somewhat” understood them.

All of the schools surveyed were already using some form of assessment of pupils on entry to reception and two-thirds were doing this in a formal way. A quarter of schools carried out observations only.

The report said that if more formal reception baseline products were made available “this may result in more change for this group”. According to the report, while the government’s introduction of baseline assessment focus primarily on the accountability at a school-level, most schools were already using on-entry assessment for purposes beyond this.

This included “targeted teaching at an individual pupil-level, to inform what and how to teach the whole class, and to verify data that early childhood education settings provided when pupils started school”.

The report included the views of teachers, school leaders, parents and carers with an online  survey of senior managers and reception teachers in schools, based on a representative sample of 1000 schools. It yielded 356 responses representing 296 schools.

The research also involved telephone interviews with 51 staff and focus groups with 47 parents from 10 schools.

The NFER – which  carried out the research – was announced earlier this month as one of the three approved providers of the assessments. The other two approved providers announced by the Standards and Testing Agency were Early Excellence and the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University (CEM).

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