SATs week has arrived and the tests have been opened. You're about to be assessed on a 6 year curriculum, that you've only experienced for a maximum of 2 years. There is a great expectation that many will come out as 'Emerging' or 'Less than expected', when in actual fact they have made incredible gains against the curriculum they were just on. For all, the progress will have been tremendous; there's just no previous set of numbers to prove it. How irritating.
Here's why I thought the Baseline Assessment was a great idea.
Originally, a group of companies were put forward as the official suppliers of, what would have been, a nationally recognised test, to be completed within the first 6 weeks of a four-year-old starting school. The critics never liked the idea, and in practice, it sounds like a hideous ordeal for a small person; a test, for a 4 year old? Horrific.
Paper and pencil, tapping a tablet screen or supplying copious notes and photographic evidence were all strategies included in administering these entry exams to infants just out of the pram, but they have finally been announced as no longer being 'used for accountability'.
The differing actions of data collection were cited as the main reasons for the decision; how can you fairly compare data collected through such different methods?
However, I actually thought the principle of the Baseline Assessment was ideal.
The first 4 years of every child entering your school have been completely different. One little person in your September intake was read to every day, while another was placed in front of the TV to stare at whatever screen was on at the time, age appropriate or otherwise. That little boy sat in his high-chair completing some very cheaply resourced crafts, while another was hardly spoken to as their primary care-giver (be that hired or otherwise) barely said 2 words to them, because why would they? They're only a baby. That little girl was taken to the park (free of charge) to play on the swings while another viewed the world through the phone screen that was tossed at them to keep them quiet, day in, day out.
The first day of school arrives and they all find themselves in your classroom; vibrant displays, carefully chosen resources and a team of smiling faces are all ready to help nurture their social skills and physical development. It's your job to start teaching them their initial sounds, letters and numbers. Now, some of them have seen these before in books, some of them might even have made recognisable marks on paper before. Some of them have already started learning how to share and be sociable, to say please and thank you and how to look after their most basic needs. However, some of them have no idea what you're talking about; they've never been read to, scribbled with a crayon, cheered '10 Green Bottles', jumped in a puddle or had a friend over for tea.
The Baseline Assessments were FINALLY a way to get the Ivory Tower to see what you're faced with on that first day in September. Yes, it seemed drastic, but these people only speak in graphs and percentages. YOU know what's going on; you've done your home visits, asked the important questions, and put the appropriate support in place. But the Big Wigs didn't see that, they weren't there.
It was finally a way to see the ENTIRE impact your school has on a child's life, measuring their development across the whole time they spend with you; rather than checking up on them 2 years in, when some of your best work has already been done, and then again at the end of KS2.
We are all so aware that children make progress at different rates, racing up and down depending on what's going on in their lives. So what about those children who made their most accelerated progress once they stepped into your safe, Early Years environment, catching up with many of their peers? It goes unnoticed by those who could ultimately tell you you're not doing a good enough job? Based on what? They don't have their starting point in a format they'd recognise.
Part of me can convince myself these are no longer being 'used for accountability' because the results would have been too good; the upfront and honest nature of their starting point, with little room for criticism of the school, against an impressive KS2 result (after a lot of hard work and a supportive family) would mean we're doing too well! Surely, it's better to assume all 4 year olds are the same, and expect them to achieve identical results with little regard for how far they have come? Maybe not.
I think the results of a Baseline Assessment would have been too much of a wake-up call for too many important people; they got scared. Finding the genuine value of a school's impact from start to finish? Too real. To banish them completely would be too much money wasted, so we'll say "Schools will have the option to continue to use the baseline assessments...as part of their on-entry assessment of pupils. The outcomes from the assessments will not be used for accountability."
Translation; We would like to politely ignore the differing backgrounds of your children, in favour of assuming they are identically matched in every aspect at age 4, as this is the system we use at the end of each key stage. We will review your end data, without knowing the start point, and let you know our findings.
Although maybe not the best method of data collection, I think the Baseline Assessment was a decent idea (that needed tweaking) discarded too soon. The principle of it was exactly as I believe Assessment should be; measuring a starting point (Baseline) and an end point (SATs), noticing the difference between the 2. Surely they couldn't 'fail' that way? I'd be interested to hear from anyone using them.