Sunday, 21 May 2017

This is a low

I often use a race analogy to explain value added, to help people understand how we can measure progress without levels and why we don't need to have data in the same format at either end. Here's a simple example:

Imagine you enter a 10k race, which is part of a series of 10k races being held across the country on the same day. When you register you are asked what pace group you’d like to run in: slow, medium, fast. A keen runner, you choose to go in the fast group and you're handed a green vest to wear. Obviously, the medium pace runners get orange vests, and the slower group wear red (everyone loves a RAG rating system). You feel good that day, having trained hard, and run your race in 41 minutes. You’re thrilled because you’ve run a PB and you’re 10 minutes faster than the average time for your race that day. Even better, you find out you are 12 minutes faster than the national average time for the whole series. Unfortunately that’s not what the race organisers are interested in; they’re interested in how your time compares against the national average time for the green vest group, which happens to be 37 minutes. Despite being way faster than the overall average time, you are 4 minutes down on the average time for your group. Your value added score is therefore -4.

This is how VA works: it involves comparing one result against the average result of those in the same start group nationally. Here we have a start defined by a colour and a result in a time format; for KS1-2 measures we currently have a start defined by a sub level and a result in scaled score format. Same thing. 

Whilst I much prefer value added to the old levels of progress measure - it's rooted in some form of reality after all - it does have one serious flaw: SEN and EAL pupils are often expected to cross the same line in the same time. 

The issue is that many EAL and SEN pupils have comparably low start points, and are therefore placed into the same prior attainment groups, effectively treating them as similar pupils. And this means they will be compared against the same benchmarks at KS2. As we know, many EAL pupils make rapid progress and score well in their KS2 tests, whereas SEN pupils do less well. The end of KS2 estimates against which each pupil in the prior attainment group is compared, being an average of the performance of SEN and EAL pupils, tend to be too high for the former and easily attainable for the latter. The issue is exacerbated by the current system of low nominal scores assigned to the pre-key stage assessments, which almost guarantees that SEN pupils can only obtain negative progress scores whilst EAL pupils excel against their benchmarks.

We can return to our race analogy to illustrate this issue further. Imagine our pace groups are defined by how many steps runners could take when they were 18 months old. The runners wearing red vests were those that couldn't walk at that age. But perhaps some of those have gone on to be fast runners whilst others have continued to have difficulty walking. On race day they are in the same group, in the same vest, and each of their times will be compared against the overall average time for group. Hardly fair.

This issue needs resolving somehow. Introducing some form of CVA is an obvious answer - a measure that recognises the difference between SEN and EAL pupils - but is likely to lead to a proliferation of SEN pupils and a corresponding decline in those registered as EAL. Removal of pre-key stage pupils from progress measures is also a possibility but that may result in a big increase in pre-key stage pupils as schools seek to get certain pupils discounted. 

I'm not sure what the answer is but it needs serious thought because as it stands, schools are hammered if they have SEN pupils, especially if they are pre-key stage. 

The DfE stated that they wanted measures to reflect the progress made by all pupils.

Time to make good on that. 


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