Does Primary Baseline Assessment Benefit Children?

Is it right to assess four- to five-year-olds? The proposed primary baseline assessment test will only be sat for a few minutes, but the impact of these tests could be more wide-reaching.

Due to be piloted in 2019, there are plans to implement primary baseline assessment nationwide in 2020 following a successful trial. Assessment will be carried out via a 20-minute test that spans literacy, numeracy, and emotional literacy, with an aim to getting a snapshot of children’s ability as they enter school.

The stated aim is to track improvement from Reception class to Year 6, and to use this data to provide school accountability for learning – not to track individual student performance. However, a recent report published by the British Educational Research Association, A Baseline Without Basis, argues that there is no educational basis or benefit for the child resulting from these baseline assessments.

Hoop Jumping

It’s inevitable that at some point in their teaching career, every teacher will feel like they’re teaching their pupils to jump through hoops. If schools want to continue to prove their performance, they have to prepare their pupils for tests and exams, as this is the metric by which they are measured.

So how will children be geared up ahead of their reception-level baseline assessment tests?

There’s a legitimate fear that this could lead to pressure being piled on pupils by eager parents, teachers, and nursery carers. While their intentions will be good, this is a lot of stress for children to bear at a time when they are already having to adapt to a strange new environment.

It would also divert attention away from other areas of pupil’s education and development at a crucial time. Education needs to be well-rounded and holistic – not just focused on meeting narrowed expectations.

Shallow Statistic

How can a statistic be generated that crosses all aspects of children’s intelligence and understanding; that spans multiple subjects and takes into account their intricacies? Simply, it can’t, and it’s difficult to see how this improves the learning environment and curriculum offering.

Children develop at different rates, and enter school at drastically different ages; on initial entry, some children will have lived a quarter longer year span than their peers. That’s a lot of extra time for learning and development.

In addition, what happens if children change schools? Are the results of this baseline assessment still relevant?

On the other hand, without a baseline statistic to work from, there’s no provable way to hold schools to account; ultimately, while this data might be shallow, it could also be the best tool we have to gain a comprehensive understanding of a primary school’s performance. The aim here is to provide quantifiable insight into each school’s performance and take note of how they transform children’s attainment, not to form granular assessments of each child’s personal development.

Test, or Assessment

There’s an argument to be made that baseline assessment can’t actually be labelled as assessment, as it doesn’t establish a feedback loop. The results of this assessment won’t be acted on directly on a per-child basis, and won’t be used to form the basis for individual children’s education; functionally, it can be argued that this initiative is a test, not an assessment.

This continues in the examination-heavy trend that has persisted over the past few years.

However, it remains to be seen if baseline assessments will provide a good foundation for assessing school provision and education. Ultimately, if baseline testing improves school performance, this would be beneficial for everybody in education, from student to teacher.

So, to answer the question: does baseline assessment benefit children? Well, not directly. It may even be harmful to their development, depending on how it’s perceived by carers and the general public, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the long run, it could be a positive tool to drive school performance, and, ultimately, children’s attainment.