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A baseline without basis: The validity and utility of the proposed reception baseline assessment in England

This report sets out the case against the government’s proposal to use a baseline assessment test of pupils in reception to hold schools in England to account for the progress that those pupils have made by the end of key stage 2.

Report authors: Harvey Goldstein, Gemma Moss, Pamela Sammons, Gwen Sinnott and Gordon Stobart

In a BERA Blog article, the authors discuss responses to this report made by the Department for Education and its chosen supplier of the baseline assessment test, the NFER.

Read coverage of the report’s findings:

The authors – an expert panel convened by BERA – conclude that the government’s proposals, which will cost upward of £10 million, are flawed, unjustified, and wholly unfit for purpose. They would be detrimental to children, parents, teachers, and the wider education system in England. In this report they consider whether the evidence from the assessment literature can justify such a test being used for this purpose – and conclude that it cannot.

In the panel’s view the proposed baseline assessment will not lead to accurate or fair comparisons being made between schools for the following reasons.

  • Any value-added calculations that will be used to hold school to account will be highly unreliable.
  • Children will be exposed to tests that will offer no formative help in establishing their needs and/or in developing teaching strategies capable of meeting them.
  • This is an untried experiment that cannot be properly evaluated until at least 2027, when the first cohort tested at reception has taken key stage 2 tests.

The authors argue that, as it is currently proposed, the reception baseline assessment is likely to produce results with little predictive power and dubious validity – and that the assessment of very young children is hard to justify when it is not being used to support a child’s learning’.

The panel argues that the tests cannot be accurate or fair because:

  • just a few month’s difference in age in the early years produces pronounced developmental differences, yet plans for the RBA do not take this properly into account
  • pupil cohorts within primary schools are statistically small, and often have uneven distributions of younger and older children, which makes it hard to draw valid comparisons between schools
  • pupil mobility, teacher turnover, and the likelihood of a change in head teacher will all muddy the issue of accountability – either pupil data will be missing, or schools may be held to account for pupils they have not taught continuously in the seven years since the data was first collected
  • it is widely recognised that a range of contextual factors – such as parents’ educational levels, family income and having English as an additional language – affect both attainment and relative attainment, but under the government’s current proposals no such factors will be taken into account.

Ultimately, the reception baseline assessment will do little to help secure positive outcomes for pupils, teachers or parents in either the short or long terms.