The reliability of in-year teacher assessment data across a school will often be the cause of much discussion – particularly among clusters and MATs trying to ensure consistency across multiple schools. Teacher assessment is subjective by its very nature, and can require considerable expertise to capture accurately.
Standardised assessments, however, can eliminate this subjectivity, while offering a number of other benefits.
The clue’s in the name – the development of these assessments will typically involve standardising them across a national sample group, thus allowing stakeholders at school level to compare their own pupils’ performance against a national picture. Schools can then use these comparisons to generate age-related bands with which they can track progress.
Benefits and limitations
One way of doing this is via progress matrices, and tracking age-related band movement from a previous term’s assessment or statutory attainment group (EYFS or KS1, for example) compared to the age-related band they’re in at that point in time.
This is more useful than analysing a subtle increase or decrease in standardised scores, as it’s often difficult to infer whether score movement is statistically significant.
It’s worth noting, however, that transition matrices like these do come with limitations – one being the question of how to demonstrate accelerated progress for children who’s starting point within a transition matrix is ‘greater depth’ or ‘well above’.
A further benefit of standardised tests is that they can provide other useful assessment data, such as age-standardised scores and percentile ranks (compared to all pupils nationally), enabling schools to understand pupil performance at a much more granular level.
That said, it’s vital to take other pupil factors into account when using standardised assessments. The performance they measure obviously won’t account for difficulties a child might face at home on the morning of the test, or a familiar adult who usually works with the child being away on the day the test is taken.
Another issue of standardised assessments can be that the content is often fixed year on year, with the result that teachers become familiar with the content. If the outcomes are then linked to performance management, this can raise the stakes and make the reliability of the test data more susceptible to volatility.
If used wisely, however, standardised assessments can help you easily analyse question and topic performance trends in comparison to national samples and cluster averages.
That can be hugely beneficial, particularly across a larger aggregated number of schools and cohorts – though it’s worth noting that for the data to be meaningful, the assessments have to be aligned with the curriculum.
The resulting information should generally reinforce teachers’ understanding of what they already know about their pupils through normal classroom practice.
The wealth of benefits that standardised assessments can bring to your tracking is plain to see. Whilst it’s important to consider wider contexts when using them, they’re a great tool for supporting understanding of teacher assessment.
I believe that the latter most definitely still has a place in school-level assessments – just not necessarily when comparing across schools. After all, when done well by effective practitioners, will teacher assessments really tell them any more than what they see day to day in the classroom?
Tyrone Samuel is an education data, systems and insight professional.